Emerging from the Mystical: Rethinking Muscle Response Testing as an Ideomotor Effect

doi 10.9769/EPJ.2018.10.2.AJ

Anne M. Jensen


Muscle Response Testing (MRT) is an assessment tool estimated to be used by over one million people worldwide, mainly in the field of alternative health care. During a test, a practitioner applies a force on a patient’s isometrically contracted muscle for the purpose of gaining information about the patient in order to guide care. The practitioner notes the patient’s ability or inability to resist the force and interprets the outcome according to predetermined criteria. Though recent research supports the validity of MRT, little is known about its mechanism of action. Nevertheless, its causation is often attributed to an ideomotor effect, which can be defined as muscular activity, potentially nonconscious, and seemingly brought about by a third-party operator. Accordingly, the aim of this study is to investigate whether the ideomotor effect is a plausible explanation of action for MRT.


This is a retrospective, observational study of data extraction from a previously reported study of the diagnostic accuracy of MRT used to distinguish true from false statements. Additional analysis was carried out on the dataset of assessing for potential sources of bias—both practitioner bias and patient bias.


When practitioners were blind, they achieved a mean MRT accuracy of 65.9% (95% CI 62.3–69.5), and when they were not blind, 63.2% (95% CI 58.3–68.1). No significant difference was found between these scores (p = 0.37). When practitioners were intermittently misled, the mean MRT accuracy decreased to 56.6% (95% CI 49.4–63.8), which proved to be significantly different from when the practitioners were blind (p = 0.02), yet not significantly different from then the practitioners were not blind (p = 0.11). In addition, no evidence of patient bias was uncovered.


The results of this study demonstrate that when comparing blind and not blind conditions, the practitioner evokes no influence, so it is unlikely that the practitioner is responsible for an ideomotor effect. Likewise, the patient has been shown to produce no significant influence either, so it is also unlikely that the patient is responsible for an ideomotor effect. The limitations of this study are those of any retrospective, observational study in that data were not collected to answer the specific research question of this study. Future research should include a study specifically designed to answer this question, for example, intentionally attempting to induce bias in the practitioner. In summary, the ideomotor explanation of MRT should be regarded as obsolete until such a time as a more plausible explanation of its mechanism of action is established.

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