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Tuesday, July 23, 2002
Outside the Lines:
Brain Typing



Here's the transcript from Show 121 of weekly Outside The Lines - Brain Typing

SUN., JULY 21, 2002
Host: Bob Ley
Reporter: Tom Rinaldi
Guests: Vic Braden, tennis coach and psychologist; Roland Carlstedt, PhD., chairman of the American Board of Sports Psychology.

BOY LEY, HOST- July 21, 2002. The great athletes of our time. Are their brains wired for success?

KEVIN MCHALE, V.P., BASKETBALL OPERATIONS, MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES - 90 percent of the NBA is from here up.

LEY- And this man says he can positively identify that mental ability.

JON NIEDNAGEL, PRESIDENT, BRAIN TYPING INSTITUTE- I can actually watch people move and tell you how their brain works, their cognitive abilities.

LEY- His name is Jon Niednagel.

DANNY AINGE, PHOENIX SUNS HEAD COACH - You can take Red Auerbach, Jerry West, Phil Jackson --I'd take Jon Niednagel.

MCHALE- If this gives you a quarter-inch edge, then it's well worth it.

LEY- Some scientists say it's worth nothing.

TOM RINALDI, ESPN CORRESPONDENT- What is brain typing based on?

DR. TERRY SANDBEK, CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST - Hype and hope.

RINALDI- These general manager types, they've been duped?

SANDBEK- Of course, they've been duped.

NIEDNAGEL- If a person has any objectivity and you're not blind, I can convince them.

LEY- Today on Outside The Lines, how real is the practice of brain typing?

Scouting players, deciding whom to draft, predicting success. That's usually considered more art than science. For example, at the NFL draft combine, incoming rookies are subjected to a complete, invasive, and some would say dehumanizing, evaluation; from photographs of their physique down to tests for their vertical jump.

And still, the history of the draft is littered with first-round busts and late-round surprises. Who knew -- after all, it's not science. You may want to hold that thought. At least for the next half hour.

You are about to meet a man who says that through his powers of observation, in just a few minutes, he can classify an athlete's brain and thus predict his or her chances of success. He calls it brain typing. He has his supporters and clients in pro sports, some who sing his praises and others reluctant to acknowledge they consult with him. And he has his critics who say, frankly, this is hooey. Tom Rinaldi explains it all.

NIEDNAGEL- I want to just do one thing, it's a little humiliating but it shouldn't be --I want you to...

RINALDI- The man on the left never played in the major leagues, yet the Cincinnati Reds pay him to work with their players.

Oh, ho! Look at that! Damn!

RINALDI- He didn't play in the NBA, yet the Timberwolves use him to assess talent.

MCHALE- To me, I think it's another tool to use that I find fascinating, first of all. Second of all, very useful.

NIEDNAGEL- Right now, he's just relaxed-it's just you and me...

RINALDI- He never played in the NFL, like this former quarterback did.

NIEDNAGEL- So mechanics, work on mechanics.

RINALDI- Yet when it comes to his son's football future, the quarterback also seeks this man's advice.

From high school fields to spring training diamonds, to NBA workouts, Jonathan Niednagel's insight is in demand.

AINGE- You can take Red Auerbach, Jerry West, -- you know, Phil Jackson -- all these guys that judge talent. And, I'd take Jon Niednagel.

RINALDI- Former NBA player and coach Danny Ainge became a believer 12 years ago. Cincinnati Reds general manager Jim Bowden is a more recent convert.

JIM BOWDEN, GM, CINCINNATI REDS- It's very valuable. It's just like having a super scout. I mean, a super scout gives you certain information that it helps make a decision, and Jon Niednagel's information helps you make a decision.

NIEDNAGEL- I'm not a psychic.

RINALDI- Call it the ultimate mind game, but Jonathan Niednagel, currently under exclusive contract with the Cincinnati Reds and the Minnesota Timberwolves, calls it brain typing.

NIEDNAGEL- I can talk to somebody -- through their syntax or diction or voice inflection or even their facial features, and tell you how they're wired. I could tell you about yourself.

RINALDI- Here's how it works- Niednagel believes each person is born with one of 16 brain types. These types, also called brain wirings, or designs, are based on four basic pairs of psychological attributes.

E-extroverted versus I-introverted. S-sensing versus N-intuitive. T-thinking versus F-feelings. And J-judging versus P-perceiving. Thus, if you are extroverted, sensing, thinking, and perceiving, you'd be labeled an ESTP type.

There are 16 possible combinations or types. And each brain type, according to Niednagel, has inherent strengths and specific weaknesses. For Niednagel, those qualities are particularly apparent in sports.

NIEDNAGEL- I coached 50 youth teams over a decade, so I felt little kids -- they have certain personalities, I started noticing motor skill connections -- but this has got to be just by accident, there's no way there can be a correlation. As I saw it more and more and more in baseball, basketball; everything that I coached, soccer -- I started seeing these things.

RINALDI- Niednagel's work essentially uses the same terminology as the well-known Myers-Briggs Psychological Assessment Test. After what he describes as 30 years of research, Niednagel no longer simply sees athletes at play; he sees brain types at work.

Type the following athletes for me, if you can.

NIEDNAGEL- OK.

RINALDI- Michael Jordan.

NIEDNAGEL- Michael Jordan is called an ISTP. To me, 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.

RINALDI- Woods.

NIEDNAGEL- Tiger Woods actually is an anomaly for his design. He and Vijay Singh are the only two guys on tour, and they're called INFPs. Tiger, even though he's communicative, he's introspective, he's in the back of the brain as well, and that's why his type is one of the top two in match play.

RINALDI- Sosa.

NIEDNAGEL- Ok, Sammy's called ENFP. And that type is actually -- there are a number of great athletes that have that design, but it's extroverted, intuitive, feeling and he's -- an extroverted version of Tiger Woods.

RINALDI- Sosa is among several prominent sports figures whose testimonials are quoted on Niednagel's own web site. Others include Timberwolves' V.P. Kevin McHale, Magic GM John Gabriel, Georgia basketball coach Jim Harrick, and 49ers GM Terry Donahue.

TERRY DONAHUE, GM, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS- In certain situations, Jon could help you know how a prospect will respond under pressure. Will he thrive under pressure, or will he tighten up?

RINALDI- His most publicized work centers on one infamous draft pick.

PAUL TAGLIABUE, NFL COMMISSONER- The San Diego Chargers select quarterback Washington State University, Ryan Leaf.

RINALDI- San Diego Chargers general manager Bobby Beathard brought Niednagel in to assess Ryan Leaf's brain type and his potential as an elite pro quarterback coming out of Washington State versus the potential of Tennessee's Peyton Manning.

NIEDNAGEL- I did go up to visit Ryan; I spent some time with Bobby, talked to the whole organization. And, basically, what I tried to do is to tell them that his design was not the top design. That, from my perception, it was about in the middle of the 16 designs, whereas Peyton Manning's is actually number one.

RINALDI- If they had listened to you, they would never have selected Ryan Leaf.

NIEDNAGEL- Well, I guess my recommendation was not to go in that direction. I --you know --so, for the sake of...

RINALDI- Based on his brain type.

NIEDNAGEL- Right. Right.

RINALDI- So. How much does advice like that cost?

On Niednagel's web site, anyone can get his brain type assessment by supplying a videotape. And, a $300 evaluation fee. For sports franchises, the fee is higher.

RINALDI- How much do you get paid by professional teams?

NIEDNAGEL- Some people would say a lot.

RINALDI- Well, what would you say?

NIEDNAGEL- Everything is relative. I'm cheap. Super cheap. For instance...

RINALDI- Define cheap.

NIEDNAGEL- Well, let's just put it -- they will pay me in the six figures.

When I first looked at him, I thought he might have the ISTP.

RINALDI- When's the last time you were wrong?

NIEDNAGEL- I don't believe I've ever been wrong when I take the time -- in other words, if you were sitting there and there's 20 guys out here and to John, what's that guy's type and I could go, I'm not sure yet, but I could look at him for a minute and I could say, well, he's one of a couple or something like that. And not that I'm trying to be boastful in any way; it's just that I believe that I can ascertain in a few minutes what more -- what people can't do in a few days.

RINALDI- On a recent afternoon, former NFL and USC quarterback Paul McDonald, a man who played in the Rose Bowl, asked Niednagel to type his son.

Michael McDonald, a high school junior in Southern California, hopes to become a Pac-10 and eventual NFL quarterback.

NIEDNAGEL- Where his wiring is so good is when it's a roll-out. And, you don't have time to set up, and he can still throw off, but the more you work on the proper mechanics, even on the run, those will kind of come into play.

RINALDI- After watching the two play catch, and after watching Michael on game tapes, Niednagel labels him an ESTP type. Essentially, the best brain wiring possible for a quarterback.

MICHAEL MCDONALD, HIGH SCHOOL QUARTERBACK- I thought it was a little far-fetched, to begin with. But, then when he said that my brain type supposedly was the top quarterback in the NFL, I got kind of excited about that.

PAUL MCDONALD, PLAYED EIGHT YEARS IN NFL- Well, first of all, it validates everything he saw on tape. That he is an ESTP. He is the top quarterback in the NFL. Then, secondly, I think what he was able to do was motor skills. That's the other side of the equation that he can help with.

NIEDNAGEL- I just try to help people better understand how they're wired, and see, for you to get the most out of your...

RINALDI- While some pay for Niednagel's advice and skill, others see a sham.

SANDBEK- There is no credible evidence that brain typing works.

RINALDI- Clinical psychologist Terry Sandbek, a Ph.D. from Pepperdine with a practice in Davis, California, is skeptical about Niednagel's skills for one reason. No scientific proof.

As far as you can tell, what is brain typing based on?

SANDBEK- Hype and hope.

RINALDI- Nothing more?

SANDBEK- Nothing more.

RINALDI- Nothing scientific.

SANDBEK- No science at all.

RINALDI- In the fields of genetics and brain chemistry, it would seem that a degree, likely an advanced one, in some scientific discipline, would be fundamental.

Yet Jonathan Niednagel's academic credentials end with a B.S. in finance. And his former career was as a commodities trader.

SANDBEK- He's not a scientist because he has no scientific training, he has no scientific publications, and he's not working as a scientist. In fact, he's -- the closest we could get to that would be he's a very credible pseudoscientist.

NIEDNAGEL- I think I'm fairly well versed in terms of the cognitive functions of the brain and how they work; I think I'm fairly well versed in terms of the motor cortex and all the motor skills and so forth. So, in that sense, I do understand some things about the brain and I've read about it for some 20 years and continue to read.

You know, like McGwire, when he would jack a ball out of the park, you know, he would pull that front side -- the right hand would come up -- well, he's gross motor dominant. He can get away with that. A Freddy McGriff -- remember how Freddy would do that same thing -- you're not wired that way. So, you should....

AINGE- Jon provides a service that I could never imagine being without -- it's like trying to draft a player not knowing how tall he is.

MCHALE- There's not a lot of difference between players, size wise. Everybody's big, everybody's quick, everybody's athletic. Everybody's trying to get an edge. If this gives you a quarter-inch edge on the 28 other teams, then it's well worth it.

NIEDNAGEL- A cynic like Kevin McHale ends up believing this because I could show him. A Danny Ainge or whoever it is, bring them on. If a person has any objectivity and they're not blind, I can convince them.

RINALDI- These teams, these coaches, these general manager types, they've been duped.

SANDBEK- Oh, if they think they're going to have a better team, or win more games, or enhance their performances, of course they've been duped. If, indeed, he could do this, he would be the fist person in history, in humanity, to do it, and he'd be the only person to do it, and this is quite a skill. It'd be -- it would be akin to someone saying, I can jump off a cliff, flap my arms and fly through the air.

NIEDNAGEL- I welcome skepticism, that's fine and dandy. It's far bigger than me. And that's why I want people to realize this isn't about the brain doctor, the guru, but it's about something that science is now finally beginning to discover that's going to effect each and every one of our lives in the days ahead.

If you work on it consistently, you won't believe what it'll do to your game. And, so, and by the way, in the camp here, you're the only guy with your wiring that I've found so far.

LEY- To discuss brain typing, is it for real and does it work, we welcome Vic Braden. He has taught tennis for a half-century and works as a television commentator for a number of networks. He's also a licensed psychologist and he endorses Jonathan Niednagel and brain typing. Vic Braden joins us from Santa Rosa, California.

Roland Carlstedt holds a Ph.D. degree; he's chairman of the American Board of Sports Psychology. He's also director of sport and performance psychology for Biocom Industries -- or Technologies. He does not endorse brain typing. And he joins us from New York City.

Good morning to you both. Roland, I'll give you a free shot here. You're sitting across the table from Danny Ainge or Kevin McHale. Smart guys, but civilians like me. Explain why you believe this doesn't work, in layman's terms.

DR. ROLAND CARLSTEDT, PH.D., CHAIRMAN, AMERICAN BOARD OF SPORTS PSYCHOLOGY- Well, as the clinical psychologist said previously, there's no published evidence whatsoever that you can eyeball a person and -- more importantly -- link an appraisal to underlying brain function. Nowadays we use sophisticated methods to localize brain functioning, and the correlations between personality and...

LEY-So there's no basis in science, is what you're saying?

CARLSTEDT- None whatsoever.

LEY- All right, Vic Braden, why does this work?

VIC BRADEN, CO-FOUNDER, CO-DIRECTOR, COTO SPORTS RESEARCH CENTER- Well, let's put it this way- Who has led the fight to get a pure scientific study? Jon Niednagel, not these guys. You can't just be critical -- get out there and take a look at the record. He's batting 1,000. That's the name of the game.

LEY- Well, why is it up to him to lead a fight to get it studied if he's been claiming success like this for so long? Why wouldn't someone like Roland or some other neuroscientist want to do it on their own?

CARLSTEDT- I've already done it on my own.

LEY- All right, and what have you found?

CARLSTEDT- Well, first of all, I did my dissertation, which won the American Psychological Association award for best dissertation on behavioral neuroscience and sports psychology. And in doing so, essentially what came out of it is that personality typing -- and that's what it is -- it's not brain typing, it's personality typing based on an antiquated method that Carl Jung developed a century ago that Myers-Briggs further validated through testing -- but then to eyeball athletes and type them and somehow correlate that with brain function is absurd.

And the typing that Jon Niednagel does contains personality elements that have been studied in over 1,000 studies in sports psychology. So, what, are you going to dismiss them? And these studies have essentially shown that personality per se makes up less than 10 percent of the variants in the performance equation. Meaning, if you have 100 factors, less than 10 -- if you accumulated all psychological factors, contribute to performance.

LEY- Vic, I guess the problem that a lot of laymen would have looking at this is how can you sit and talk to somebody, and as you heard Jon say in the piece, talk to you -- look at you for just a couple of minutes and type your brain. That's where I think the laymen have trouble understanding how this can work.

BRADEN- Now, wait a minute. We've got to go back to Dr. Carlstedt. Number one, is that Jon has not fully endorsed the Myers-Briggs. He got into brain typing because of the fallacy. The same thing that Dr. Carlstedt said.

I will bet you right here and now -- I have followed very carefully the neuroscientists who support John. In the paper that Carlstedt put out, about athletes being left brainers, the dominant hemisphere, we haven't found one neuroscientist who agrees with him. Not one! And he needs to put up the neuroscientists who do agree with him that athleticism is a left hemisphere.

LEY- But, Vic, doesn't a lot of this come down to the powers of observation? I had a neuroscientist tell me the other day when I was doing some research for this show that people may have this skill, but they don't realize it, like bartenders, like human resource people. It -- doesn't it come down to powers of observation, Vic?

BRADEN- Well, now, first of all -- Jon is accused of being intuitive. And that's why he's batting 1,000. That's why people are going after him.

LEY- Yes, he says he's never been wrong.

BRADEN- Look, I came into this thing as a skeptic, also. But, what's important, I have more intuition in my armpit than he has in his brain. He's not intuitive. He's a keen observer, he documents well, and then he synthesizes data. Then he takes it to neuroscientists. Then he took blood samples and went to DNA.

I went to -- Arthur Kornberg, one of the founders of DNA, who won a Nobel Prize. He said you're on the right track. So, every place I have gone to confirm what Jon is doing -- the neuroscientists have supported him. And Jon has studied the brain. I asked the neuroscientists, does Jon know how this brain functions? Is his research current? Is it consistent? And they said, absolutely. Now, who do I believe? Carlstedt, or do I believe the neuroscientists?

CARLSTEDT- Oh, please, Vic.

BRADEN- Carlstedt's a psychologist.

LEY- Well, I'll throw this out to both of you. When you hear somebody say, though, as Jon said in the piece, "I've never been wrong, admittedly, when I have the time." Never been wrong. That's a rather startling statement.

BRADEN- It certainly is, and it sounds like braggadocios. But...

LEY- And it's true? But you believe it's true.

BRADEN- But what happened is I put him to the test. And he wasn't wrong. And I would love somebody to show me where he's been wrong.

CARLSTEDT- Can I interject?

BRADEN- When he came out on the Ryan Leaf thing, and I -- and we got all the psychologists who wrote in and said this is a fraud, this is a sham. Well, when they -- when he took them in the toilet, San Diego Chargers, and Peyton Manning was the number one quarterback in the league, where were all the letters? Those guys didn't show up. Look, as a psychologist...

LEY- Well, in truth, though, he was the third brain scientist that San Diego had called -- had brought in. And what we understand he was called in rather late in the process. There were two other people also called in.

BRADEN- Well, I understand that. But Bob Beathard said, look, I understand what you're saying, but my scouts tell me that Ryan Leaf is going to be the franchise. Jon said, do what you want. Jon is not a pushy guy. He doesn't say you have got to do this. He just says here's my take on this thing, Ryan Leaf is going to hurt you, he's not going to help you maximize your performance. That's all.

LEY- OK. Roland, I promise you a chance to respond when we do continue. As we continue, how to apply brain typing. An NBA coach says it clued him in that a high school player was about to become an NBA superstar.

AINGE- We're watching tapes of Tracy McGrady in high school, and Jon watched the tape once, he was in the room by himself again watching it for a second time, and I had left the room and I came back and he says, "Danny, this Tracy McGrady is what's called ISTP brain type and he's the closest thing to Michael Jordan I've ever seen."

LEY- We're back with Vic Braden and Roland Carlstedt as we consider brain typing.

Roland, let me pick up with you. Is it possible that there's a little bit of professional jealousy involved here on the side of the table here with neuroscientists?

CARLSTEDT- I don't think there is any jealousy at all, because, first of all, a scientist does not promote a system, a scientist subjects evidence, data, to pure scrutiny. You need to replicate, you need to publish in peer-reviewed journals.

And Vic's comment regarding my dissertation research is way off the mark, because it's passed the test of peer review, peer scrutiny, it's won the highest award in the APA, and I used, basically, neuropsychological measures of cerebral aderality to identify relative tendencies. This is not a statement; it's a finding that requires further research.

LEY- And you're saying Jon Niednagel has done nothing of that sort on that level of scientific work.

CARLSTEDT- None whatsoever, there is no peer review publications; the support is anecdotal. Sure, if you superficially present a system to somebody and say, OK, it might be plausible, fine. But the whole idea behind science is hypothesis testing. It's essentially designed to prove yourself wrong as opposed to...

LEY- And you're saying it hasn't happened.

Vic, let me ask this. We saw Jon stepping into the batting cage at spring training with the Cincinnati Reds. Now, at what point does just brain typing move over to actual coaching?

BRADEN- Well...

LEY- I mean, I think if somebody had questions about this, they would say, OK, fine to talk to somebody about their brain type is fine -- to step in there and demonstrate a batting stance...

BRADEN- I don't think he's saying that -- excuse me -- from our standpoint, we do, Dr. Ariel and I, formed the Coto Research Center to measure output. We can quantify a fourth of a degree change in a wrist motion, a forearm motion and so on. That's what we did with over 40 sports. We did boxers, we did animals, we did everything. Jon is measuring the input.

I like what Carlstedt said, you've got to get out there and put it to a pure scientific test; that's what Jon wants.

CARLSTEDT- Well, Vic, can I say something?

BRADEN- Guess what? He got a $10 million bid for -- to do the research. $10 million. Why doesn't...

CARLSTEDT- Vic.

BRADEN- Why doesn't somebody come up with it?

LEY- OK, Roland -- you've got 10 seconds, Roland.

CARLSTEDT- Vic, remember when you challenged me in "Tennis Week," well, here's the challenge to Niednagel.

Essentially, you do a blind single blind test, you take anybody that's been typed, you put them through our EEG and MRI battery. And if his predictions localize with real brain functioning, that is visible and based on scientific instruments, then he can publish a paper...

LEY- All right, the challenge has been laid. Thank you very much, gentlemen. Vic Braden, Roland Carlstedt. I wish we could continue longer into the back and forth of psychology.

BRADEN- Yeah, and I wish you could see the PET scan data, too.

LEY- All right, thanks a great deal. As we continue, sampling of opinions on the battle between Tiger Woods and an artist.

An artist who painted Tiger Woods' victorious moment in the '97 Masters, embroiled in a legal battle with Woods' representatives over whether he has the right to sell paintings and prints of that painting.

Last Sunday's topic, strong opinions in our e-mail inbox, most favoring the artist. And this thought:

"And on the 9th day, God said to Michelangelo, you may not enter the gates of heaven until you pay me royalties for the Sistine Chapel, and all the reproductions."

Log onto ESPN.com, our keyword "OTL Weekly." Our library of transcripts and video and our e-mail. We look forward to your brain typing thoughts. Our address, otlweekly@espn.com.