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We firmly believe that Brain Typing will be genetically proven, and when it is it will have worldwide acknowledgment. Its implications will be profound enough that all major and recognized publications and media sources will tout this unparalleled insight*-- J. P. Niednagel, predicting his destiny
Brain typing is claiming a person has one of 16 distinct brain types. Jonathan P. Niednagel (pronounced need-noggle)*, or JN as he refers to himself on his website BrainTypes.com, claims that he can identify a person's brain type with 100% accuracy just by observing the person. He claims that neuroscientific research, yet to be done, will validate his claims that there are 16 brain types and that he can accurately identify a person's brain type without any direct observation of the person's brain via an fMRI or the like.
JR claims that a person's brain type "directly regulates both mental and motor skills."* He says:
...you could have the same Brain Type as Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy, or one of the separate Types of Michael Jordan, Tom Cruise, Tiger Woods or Oprah Winfrey.
You will share many mental and physical characteristics with the celebrities of your personal Brain Type. And, the more you train yourself to be like a well known person—or anyone else of your Type—the more you’ll be like them. People of the other 15 Types can never attain the distinct giftedness of your particular Brain Type.
This sounds like you can train yourself to be like a person you admire only if that person is your type. It also sounds like you don't have to worry about all the Hitlers, Idi Amins, Ted Bundys, Theodore Kaczynskis, Dorothea Puentes, and the like who will also share your type. (Yes, in a world with billions of people, you are bound to share your brain type, as well as your astrological sign, with a few unsavory characters.) JN warns us, though, that "nature is the single greatest determinant for why we do what we do." Apparently, however, the brain type regulation of our mental and motor skills isn't absolute and depends, in part, on our ability to train ourselves to be like the people we want to be like. It is amazing that JN can figure out a person's brain type just by observing him, especially since the brain type isn't the only determinant of a person's behavior. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. What evidence is there that brain types even exist?
JN admits that the scientific evidence isn't here yet. He writes: "We believe it won't be long before Brain Types are proven genetically." What he means is that the only evidence for brain types at present is his word for it and a collection of anecdotes, which we will get to eventually. For now, however, the science doesn't exist.
JN claims that he has done thirty years of research and he claims that he has an institute for the scientific study of brain types, which he refers to as BTI. However, BTI is less an institute than an organization and its purpose is less scientific research than promoting his service, his self-published books, and his DVD. (He claims major sports teams pay him "in the six figures" for his recommendations.*) According to psychologist Terry Sandbek: "Although the name [Brain Type Institute] conjures a large building with highly trained staff and possible research facilities, it is an 'institute' in name only. A phone call to the headquarters will either result in an answering machine message or a personal contact with Jonathan’s brother, Jeremy." The research that JN refers to seems to consist of little more than his reading and drawing grand inferences.
JN, the man and the brain
Who is Jonathan Niednagel and what is his brain type? His formal education ended with a bachelor’s degree in business finance from California State University, Long Beach. Before launching his Brain Typing career, JN worked as a commodities broker, promoted positive thinking and multilevel marketing, and co-founded Mobile Automation, a company selling "software solutions to large enterprise organizations that reduce operating costs and increase productivity of mobile workers" (Sandbek). In other words, JN is a businessman and entrepreneur; he is not a scientist. His reading, however vast and deep, has not produced a single experiment or a peer-reviewed published paper on brain types. Even so, JN compares himself favorably to Gregor Mendel. Mendel, of course, was an actual scientist who posed a hypothesis and developed controlled experiments over many years to test his hypothesis. JN believes he is like Mendel because both made careful observations over many years. Here is what JN says about JN:
From a BT perspective, only a person strong in the back of the brain (true Introversion), one who’s left brained dominant—the conscious and methodical hemisphere, having a mind fixated on “what is” (Sensing), not “what could be,” and being more predisposed to logic (Thinking) than feelings could actually endure this grueling venture over a number of decades. Such is and has been JN.*
Let's ignore the gibberish about being "strong in the back of the brain" and simply note that Mendel's work gave rise to modern genetics. What has JN's work given rise to besides his business? According to JN:
....JN’s nearly 30 years of painstakingly scrutinizing individual and inborn human traits—cognitive, motor and spatial—has also brought about a new and dynamic understanding. We are convinced it is soon to become a 21st century “hard” science.*
JN's conviction would be hilarious if it weren't so pathetic. His hyperbolic opinion of himself isn't justified by any evidence he puts forth. All we know for sure is that (1) JN has a product to sell, namely, his ability to determine brain types by observing people and to use this information to make predictions about future athletic performance; (2) there are customers who swear by his ability to accurately assess talent in fields he says he has no talent in, such as football or basketball; and (3) JN swears there are people willing to pay big money for his services. What we don't know is that brain types are real or that science will one day validate JN's 16 brain types. What we don't have is a single neuroscientist, geneticist, or other scientist supporting his claim that some day his belief about brain types will be validated by scientists. Nor do we have any evidence that other animals with brains can be meaningfully classified according to a specific number of brain types that determine simple motor or mental skills.
What did JN read that led him to discover something that he believes science will some day validate? He says he read many scientific papers. Maybe he did. He also read a good deal on the personality typology of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®, which, not coincidentally, claims that there are 16 types of personalities. Niednagel claims: "BTI takes Jung/Myers typology to a higher level in order for people to find even greater relevance and application."* It should not be surprising then that JN's brain types have the same names as Myers-Briggs types. For example, he says "Michael Jordan is called an ISTP." JN doesn't mean that Michael Jordan is egalitarian and tolerant of a wide range of behaviors until his ruling logical principles are attacked, at which point he can surprise others by his firm and clear judgments. Nor does JN mean that Jordan listens and seems to agree because he doesn't disagree while he is analyzing and making internal judgments.* That's how a Myers-Briggs advocate might describe an ISTP, but it doesn't describe Michael Jordan any better than it describes many other people and it doesn't distinguish itself from a common astrological reading. JN's description of an ISTP is quite different:
....it's the number one design in pro basketball. They're super competitive, they have motor skills that are superb for what they do, and they have great spatial awareness on top of that, so they have their complete package not only mentally but physically.*
How JN arrived at this assessment of the typical ISTP is anybody's guess. He didn't need very powerful observational skills, of course, to see that Michael Jordan has great motor skills and spatial awareness. JN claims that:
...BT is devoted to identifying inborn traits/skills—mental (cognitive), physical (motor), and spatial (visual). Since each BT has its own and unique neural circuitry (minor, not major) in the brain, all people the world over—sharing the same BT—will have similar innate tendencies in these three significant areas.
He believes, he says, that the data to support these claims will be found by neuroscientists some day. We are asked to trust him and his observations. But there is no reason to believe that his belief is based on anything even vaguely resembling scientific inquiry. Scientists don't make grandiose claims about the brain and behavior and then wait for others to provide support for their claims. Scientists don't put their money into marketing a product, while leaving to others the job of doing the scientific studies that validate it after the product is on the market. That is what businessmen do who know something about selling snake oil to an unsuspecting public. Perhaps it is coincidental, but JN seems to have modeled himself after self-help guru Tony Robbins, a man with unquestionable talent at persuading people that he has a product that can, in his own words, "awaken the giant within" and empower anyone to reach any goal. JN has found that restricting himself to identifying future flops or greats in professional sports is too limiting. He has grown his product to apply to all walks of life and expanded his goal to include helping anybody succeed at anything.
JN may have read some scientific papers, but he seems also to have read books on cold reading and on how to persuade people. I say that because he has persuaded a number of intelligent people that he is a genius, but the only evidence he's provided are anecdotes where he seems to have made a correct prediction about an athlete and anecdotes that seem remarkably similar to those provided by people who have had a psychic reading. Many come away from such readings convinced that the psychic who they just met knew all kinds of intimate details about them that they couldn't have just guessed. Such people know little or nothing about subjective validation and how snake oil salesmen use it to their advantage. JN has no compelling scientific evidence that brains can be meaningfully divided into sixteen types of cognitive, mental, or motor skills. What needs to be explained is not brain typing, but how JN persuades people to believe he is doing brain typing when he evaluates athletic talent.
Sammy Sosa says: "I like to talk to [JN] because he's a good guy." Dr. Bob Arnot, who calls himself "America's Doctor," says: "Jonathan P. Niednagel's scientific and 21st century approach to evaluating, developing, and motivating people, is simply stunning. I've found it the most important and helpful information in the last 20 years of human understanding and development. Brain Types is relevant for not only sports but every segment of society. Those who fail to use Brain Types will be at a distinct disadvantage now and in the future." (This is the same Bob Arnot whose book The Breast Cancer Prevention Diet: The Powerful Foods, Supplements, and Drugs that Can Save Your Life was execrated by the American Council on Science and Health as being "unscientific and deceptive."*) How did JN persuade a long list of athletes, coaches, and Dr. Bob Arnot that he is not a charlatan? I don't know. What I do know from studying a long list of snake oil sellers is that most of them seem to have read the same book on how to persuade people of just about anything.
The most important characteristic of a master persuader is likeability. If people don't like you, you have no chance of being a master seller of anything. The testimonials posted on JN's website indicate that some important people like him a lot. Attractiveness is important to likeability. JN's pictures on his website make him look attractive enough. You don't have to be knock-down good looking, but you have to appear successful: neat hair, well-dressed, that kind of thing. People will also like you better if they think you're sincere and honest. The quality of the product you have to sell is not nearly as important as being liked.
According to social psychologist Robert Levine, "Research shows that three characteristics are related to persuasiveness: perceived authority, honesty, and likeability" (Levine 2003: 31). Levine doesn't mean that the seller must be honest. All that is required is that he appear honest. Also, the master seller doesn't need to be an authority. It is sufficient that he appear to be an authority. Not knowing JN, I can't speak to his honesty. He may really believe brain types exist and that scientists will some day prove him right about his claims. If so, then he is honest but deluded about the way scientists and science actually works. He may really believe that observing behavior and trying to type it according to your beliefs is doing empirical science. He's wrong, but it could be an honest mistake made by someone who is simply ignorant of the history of science.
Even though there is no science to support JN's claims about brain types, he is perceived to be an authority on the subject by several people. Not knowing the particulars behind each testimonial given by people like Dr. Bob Arnot and Vic Braden, I can only say that JN is perceived to be an authority on brain types because he says he is. He claims he's using brain typing when he assesses individuals and makes predictions about athletic performance. His predictions impress some people. For all I know, JN may be a master at assessing athletic talent. Even so, there is no evidence that brain types even exist, much less that they can be determined by careful observation.
Besides the jargon that many people associate with scientific authority—and which JN uses to his advantage—another key factor that impresses many people as a sign of authority is self-confidence. One doesn't need to spend much time on JN's website to pick up his vibe: he exudes self-confidence with every word. He asserts without qualification or support many claims like the following:
Brain Typing has become the world’s most accurate and sophisticated approach to understanding why people do what they do, whether in the workplace, at home, or on the field of athletic competition. Each person has only one of the 16 Brain Types, which gives them an inborn, genetically predisposed wiring that directly regulates both mental and motor skills. Each Brain Type not only has inherent and specific mental proficiencies (and deficiencies) but physical ones as well. These inborn traits are the greatest determinants for why people do what they do, excluding personal ethics and morality.*
Since JN provides no scientific support for the existence of brain types, it seems clear that one reason people believe him is that he appears to know what he is talking about. His apparent authoritativeness is probably due to the confidence he exudes about brain typing and the scientific sounding jargon he uses in expressing that confidence. Is this confident assertion by a likeable fellow enough to lead intelligent people to perceive JN as an authority on brain typing, however? I don't think so.
Celebrity endorsements is another factor that is probably at work contributing to JN's popularity. These do not seem to be paid endorsements, so we might ask why would a Kevin McHale or a Terry Donohue endorse JN's product? We've already established that it can't be because they've read and studied the science of brain typing and have discovered the truth for themselves in the scientific literature because there isn't any. What attracts celebrities are JN's powers of persuasion and his apparently accurate assessment of at least some athletic talent, combined with some basic cold reading and confirmation bias (Sandbek ND). JN is fond of anecdotes that show him picking a winner or a loser in professional sports, as if he were a horse handicapper. Even a broken clock is correct twice a day. His favorite example seems to be a pick he made many years ago (Peyton Manning over Ryan Leaf).* He had a 50-50 chance of being right in picking Manning over Leaf. How many other picks has he made over the years that didn't turn out quite so well. We'll never know because JN sure doesn't keep track or, if he does, he doesn't publish the results. Those folks in professional sports or other endeavors who have given JN good money for bad advice are not likely to come forward and admit it. Combine selectivity of evidence with providing a list of traits to clients so they can subjectively validate them, and you have a formula for giving the appearance of almost psychic ability.
Despite the celebrity endorsements, some critics of brain typing might be more concerned about the implications of brain types than whether there even is such a thing. One implication is that, like sun signs in astrology, your type determines not only what you can accomplish, but how others should treat you. Like astrology, brain typing encourages one to resign oneself to a belief in destiny. To paraphrase what Bob Steiner said about astrology: If you consult JN to make life decisions, you are giving up control over your own life. You are living your life based upon pseudoscientific nonsense. That is true whether JN is a fraud or a sincere true believer (Steiner 1989: 6). This charge doesn't take away from the fact that one's astrologer or JN might provide insight or good advice on occasion. But customer satisfaction should not be confused with validating a pseudoscience.
Other critics might be concerned that JN has dressed up the Myers-Briggs instrument with some fancy talk about brain types without offering any justification for doing so. (Asserting that brain typing is more accurate than Myers-Briggs and that it isn't based on answering questions like the Myers-Briggs instrument, which JN does, isn't much of a justification.) One wonders if he's aware of the fact that Jung noted that any typology of persons is arbitrary.
Finally, the fact that JN has branched out from assessing athletic potential to coaching or training not only athletes but students, businesses, and people just trying to make it through the day, is a strong indicator that JN has found the empowerment formula of many other self-help entrepreneurs. His next book is called Get the Most Out of Life with Your Inborn Brain Type and will concern "relationships/romance, family/parenting, business, sports, education, spirituality, and health-related issues (including weight control)."* His book will probably be a success among the serial self-help seekers and will find a place on the shelf next to these classics:
It seems that scientists will be very busy in the future. Not only will they have to find evidence for the 16 brain types that JN believes exist, but they will now have to figure out how those brain types determine not only athletic performance, but romance, weight control, health, success in business and in relationships, and spirituality.
Maybe the scientists should consult their astrologers for help with this mighty task.