“The Eyes Don’t Have It: Lie Detection and Neuro-Linguistic Programming” is an article recently published in the science journal PLoS One, debunking the idea that you can tell from someone’s eye movements that they are lying.
Most of the studies that claim to ‘debunk’ NLP have put up some kind of ‘straw man’ premise that ‘NLP claims…’ or ‘many NLP practitioners claim…’, followed up with something that isn’t widely claimed in NLP, and study is no exception.
I’ve never met anyone in the NLP field who makes such a claim – their premise that ‘many NLP practitioners to claim that it is possible to gain a useful insight into whether someone is lying from their eye-movements’ is referenced to *one* article from 1991, by a probation officer who may or may not be NLP trained, which doesn’t mention lying explicitly. The only bit which might be taken to imply a relationship between eye movements and lying is this paragraph:
“When a client is asked a concrete question – “Where were you last night?” – eye movement up or over to the right might suggest that he or she is constructing a response, not recalling one. This in itself may indicate valuable lines for further investigation.”
Here’s the probation officer’s article: https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/Digitization/133408NCJRS.pdf
To be fair, they do also mention two Youtube videos which claim a link between eye movements and lying. But that’s the total of the evidence that many NLP practitioners believe it.
The idea is obviously around in popular consciousness, as I’ve seen it mentioned in an episode of CSI (for example) but I’m not aware of anyone who is very familiar with NLP who believes or supports it.
If somebody who has heard of NLP but doesn’t know much about it claims that an idea is NLP, even though it never appeared in any of Bandler and/or Grinder’s books, does that make it NLP?
Academic psychologists like the authors of this study (Richard Wiseman is the best-known of the authors) seem to think so. I know that he’s done some good work (e.g. researching into what makes people lucky) and written some well-received self-help books, but clearly he’s not infallible.
For a detailed rebuttal of other studies claiming to debunk NLP, see Andy Bradbury’s set of articles entitled ‘Cargo Cult Criticism’.
Peer review is the best system we’ve got for getting at truth, but the publication of studies like this suggest that it’s not an automatic guarantee of reliability, in the psychology field at least.
By the way, none of the above is pretending that there aren’t some NLP practitioners around who make strange or unsupported claims. People come into the NLP field bringing all kinds of weird (to me) beliefs with them, and don’t always modify them in the course of getting trained. But that doesn’t mean that everything they say or put in their marketing material is ‘claimed by NLP’.
Nor is it to suggest that everything that Richard Bandler or John Grinder have written or said, together or singly, should be taken as gospel truth. Like any other human beings, they could be mistaken about some things, or even (for all I know) have made some stuff up. But taken as a whole, NLP works remarkably well (in my experience and that of many other people) and deserves some well constructed studies to test the hypotheses it has generated.
Here are a couple of initiatives aiming to get some proper research done into NLP: The NLP Research and Recognition Project and the International NLP Research Conference.
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Very good article Andy.. here’s the link from the NLPU Encyclopaedia http://nlpuniversitypress.com/html/E42.html . (I’ve tweeted this link to Richard Wiseman) Robert Dilts both cites research from others and his own original research on eye movements. He does actually mention lies and lying but it’s more in the context of calibrating for congruence or confusion. The main body of the article is about how you can use the patterns to recognise sensory representations and strategies for decisions and learning etc.
So an article does exist .. and it also promotes the skilled, calibrated interpretation of the cues in a nuanced, subtle way and not a mechanistic and decontextualised one.
I don’t know anyone who teaches that patterning the eye cues gives you some kind of foolproof lie-detection test. Your title is extremely to the point!
As you say this is a research issue which can’t be done in a purely quantitative way.
I’m not saying the research on eye accessing cues couldn’t be done in a purely quantitative way – I don’t know enough about research design to know if that’s possible or not. What I am saying is that there’s no point in testing a ‘straw man’ hypothesis.
The go-to guy for reliably telling if someone is lying from external cues is a psychologist, rather than an NLP pracititoner: Paul Ekman. The popular TV series ‘Lie To Me’ is based on his work. http://www.paulekman.com/
Yes, sorry you just said ‘proper research’ .. my inference.
My intention was to suggest a form of research which could provide useful, meaningful data from a more interactive, subtle, contextualised understanding of eye movements rather than a limited, linear, mechanistic one.
I was going to mention Lie to Me / Paul Ekman – yery fascinating work. In the pilot as I recall they did use eye accessing cues… but they then got dropped. My mind-read of this was that whereas Ekman’s work is v well scientifically researched etc NLP eye cues are, in the way they are most generally and reductively thought of, not seen as valid.
However I agree he’s yer man on fibs – the Clinton vignette ” I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” etc!
I think most NLPers welcome research so long as its rigorous; the approach and mehodology is appropriate; whether qualitative, quantitative, empirical, epistemological, mixed, inductive, deductive, etc. Reading the report on PLoS One leaves many questions unanswered, particularly the selection of participants (and the level – if any – of what we might have called calibration). What is concerning to me is that media reports are likely to skew what was written. The BBC – considered by most to report authoritively – currently report here:
“…The claimed link between eye movements and truth telling is* a key element of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP)…”
“Psychologist Professor Richard Wiseman, from Hertfordshire University, said: “The results of the first study revealed no relationship between lying and eye movements, and the second showed that telling people about the claims made by *NLP practitioners did not improve their lie detection skills.”
*No sign of quantification here!
Also note that for at least the last 20 years, at least in the Bandler camp, there’s been acknowledgement that people also move their eyes to look at their images in space. After accessing an image, a person’s eyes will scan the image as they explore information in that image. This isn’t in any of the books, but it’s been taught in Richard’s DHE course since I first took it in the early 90s.
While I can qualitatively tell the difference between an accessing cue as described in Frogs into Princes and a scan of an already-retrieved image, I don’t know how I would describe that difference precisely enough to research eye accessing cues without them being confounded by post-retrieval eye scanning movements.
Srever’s comments are well worth considering. I still remember, and go by, his advice at an NLP Conference session that DEBRIEFING should be part of any study of EACs, because people don’t always go directly to the sense which gives the answer to a question. IIRC, one of his subjects went K (sitting on his grandma’s lap) -> O (smelling his grandma’s scent) -> V (seeing what his grandma’s living room looked like), which was what he’d been asked to do.
Good stuff, Stever 🙂
This can be reframed. I have a cunning plan.
Personally – this is AN OPINION – I found the article highly dubious. What the authors seem to be saying is that they know perfectly well that the creators of NLP hsave never claimed that you could detect whether someone was lying by watching their eye movements, but they want to give “NLP” (is that really a thing?) so they’re going to investigate NON-authoritative claims which CONTRADICT the “official position”, show that they’re invalid and then label their results as having proved that “NLP” (not just one technique, mark you) has been disproved!
Talk about shades of Sharpley and Heap!
The worst part of the business is the concrete evidence that the authors of the report have (by accident?) ignored the evidence that invalidates their claims, including:
1. The detailed description of eye accessing cues in “Frogs into Princes” (1979), and
2. This statement made by Vrij and Lochun that: “It is important to note that NLP-theorists never mention the possibility of detecting lies by observing eye movements, nevertheless some police officers believe that it is possible to do so.”
The second reference is especially interesting because the comment is in the article cited in reference 12 of the article by Wiseman & co.
I shall be posting a full evaluation of this article on my web site as soon as I can.
Great article, Andy. Succinct and right on the button.
Another great article. I was told in my early days of learning NLP that eye accessing cues could be used to detect lying, I then learned more about people and more about NLP and spend some time discussing this o our courses. Discussing that people do things with their eyes for many reasons.
It is a common urban myth to be found in the early series of CSI Ls Vega too;)
Great article, Andy. Bit jealous about the title, though – a case of “damn, why didn’t I think of that!” My own article on this subject questions the premise on which the research was based – and the lack of scientific diligence demonstrated. It has produced some interesting comments on the this latter point.
And, today’s footnote, raises further questions about their objectivity and diligence: one of the research paper’s authors, Dr Richard Wiseman, tweeted after publication “Love the NLP folks saying they never believed the eye movement/lying claim. Before yesterday we couldn’t find website that was critical.”
Well, the first Pegasus NLP caution against treating eye accessing cues as a means of detecting lies was published on the web in the summer of 2000 (as recorded by the Web Archive). Our main page on eye accessing (with links to articles debunking the Lie Detector Myth) has for some years been on Page 1 or 2 of a Google results for NLP eyes lying. Yet they say they couldn’t find such articles…
By the way, I’d highly recommend that comments on the research project are also posted in the article’s comments section (right-hand tab near top of page) as these will then be on academic record:
One of the 5 comments on this page is from the PloS ONE staff and indicates the amount of publicity the article had received by 10 pm on Friday evening. A Google search today suggests that there may be few publications worldwide that have resisted the temptation to pick it up – though it seems all of them have resisted the temptation to actually deal critically with the published results.
It’s amazing that the BBC have given it the coverage mentioned above by Steve Cowie. We are used to more critical journalism from the BBC.
Andy Bradbury: agree with your points. I was going to do a number of articles thoroughly critiquing the project – and then I read the paper in detail and recognised that it would be not so much an article as a book – and I sort of lost the will to live at the prospect. I look forward to your article.
Yesterday’s article: http://pegasusnlpblog.com/eyes-dont-have-it-nlp-disproved-or-not
Thanks for this – it shows just how hard Wiseman and co tried to find evidence:
““Love the NLP folks saying they never believed the eye movement/lying claim. Before yesterday we couldn’t find website that was critical.”
Tsk, tsk, Mr Wiseman. Check out the first few paragraphs here:
There is a specific statement of the type Wiseman says he couldn’t find – and it’s been there for years!
Steve’s cunning plan has come to fruition here: http://www.odyssey.ltd.uk/press1.htm
Thanks Reg! I would like to point out to readers of this blog that Reg’s post on this study (referenced above) is also well worth reading.
A gentleman who is writing a book on critical thinking has contacted me by email raising a number of questions – I asked him if he could post them as a comment on here so I hope he does. Not least because it’s a useful reminder that much what seems obvious to us in the NLP community is not always apparent to people outside it, even if they have no particular axe to grind.
Hey there…been awhile, but I felt I wanted to respond to this particular email.
First, to clarify my position: I consider NLP and Traditional Chinese Medicine to be approximately similar — I’m sure that there is some valuable and useful stuff in there, but it’s mixed in with a whole bunch of nonsense, and determining which is useful and which is not is made almost impossible by those who practice it. They tend to be highly resistant to proper scientific double-blind study, and rely far more on anecdotes and personal testimony (which are terribly unreliable and almost inevitably biased) than on solid scientific research.
Now, to address both your email, and an article by Andy Bradbury addressing the Skeptic’s Dictionary article about NLP.
You said, “I’ve never met anyone in the NLP field who makes such a claim”. I’d have to question how many people you’ve met in the NLP field, or how much research you did before writing this…because as ignorant as I am in general about NLP, compared to you or others talking about it, a quick Google search for “NLP lying eyes” revealed links to tons of sites that make this exact claim…a number of them sites that apparently have quite a large public exposure. Now, it may well be that these people are misinterpreting or misrepresenting what the original NLP founders said about it…but given the quite significant online presence of self-proclaimed NLP practitioners who very specifically make this claim, I don’t think it is at all inaccurate for others to refer to it as a technique that is promoted by NLP practitioners. It would be inaccurate to say that all NLP practitioners promote this; but its not at all inaccurate to say that there are a significant number of them.
Furthermore, it is the whole vagueness of the NLP claims that adds to this confusion. Just as it is impossible to get any group of Christians to agree with each other about “what exactly Christians believe”, it seems likewise impossible to get any group of NLP practitioners to agree with each other on “What is NLP?” I can certainly find those who will say, “This is real NLP, and that is not”…but there’ll be other people making exactly the opposite claim.
So by what standard do we objectively judge “what is NLP” and “what is not NLP”? I’m talking about a standard whereby anyone claiming to be teaching/using NLP could be evaluated to determine whether it is actually NLP, or it is not.
And then there’s the article by Andy Bradbury. First, I agree with him that the article in the Skeptic’s Dictionary is poorly researched, and does have some inaccurate claims and criticisms. But putting that aside, the biggest thing that jumped out at me was this particular quote:
“Since the co-creators of NLP have never claimed that NLP is scientific, this second claim is also entirely unjustified”
Well I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment that “NLP is not scientific”, I am rather surprised to hear someone who is defending NLP using this as an argument to DEFEND it. “You can’t criticize us for being unscientific or pseudo-scientific because we’ve never claimed to be scientific in the first place”. Again, a quick Google search for “scientific proof of NLP” revealed tons of sites that claim that it IS scientific, and that there is scientific research to support it…but at least my cursory look at it demonstrates that none of the “scientific proof” meets the standard of a proper double-blind study, and the vast majority of it is anecdotes and first-person experience — both of which are interesting to read, but don’t even come close to demonstrating there’s anything other than the placebo effect or confirmation bias at play.
An example from a slightly different field — religion, and the power of prayer. About ten years ago, some German scientists did some research on the power of prayer, and the role it plays (if any) in healing others. They did this by finding people who were sick with similar ailments, and then praying for one half, while not praying for the other half. The result? Those who were prayed for had a statistically higher recovery rate than those who weren’t prayed for. BUT…that’s only half the story. They had two other groups, in which they also had one group prayed for, and the other not prayed for…but they told them the opposite (ie. the ones who were being prayed for were told they weren’t being prayed for, and vice versa). And rather unsurprisingly, the ones who were TOLD they were being prayed for had a statistically higher recovery rate than the ones who were told they weren’t being prayed for. PRAYER made no difference at all; it was the EXPECTATION created by being told that someone was praying for them.
I very strongly suspect that a lot of NLP techniques are pretty much the same thing. When people are trained, they are told what effect should happen…and lo and behold, it happens! However, I’d be willing to bet that if they were told to expect an entirely different effect, they would report that they felt the anticipated effect.
As I said, I doubt that ALL of NLP is nonsense…I’m sure there’s some valid stuff in there somewhere. But given the dreadful lack of consensus on even “what is NLP”, and the dreadful lack of actual proper study (to the point where someone DEFENDING it states as a “defense” that it never claimed to be scientific) leaves me very highly skeptical.
I should mention that I’m in correspondence with Derren Brown, in regards to a book I’m writing on critical thinking, and he states that he has actually done the experiment that I proposed above, on a small scale…telling people what effect to expect, and in the vast majority of cases, they reliably report that the outcome they were told to expect was what happened to them. If they were told it would make them feel peaceful, they felt peaceful; if they were told it would make them feel anxious, it made them feel anxious; if they were told it would invoke memories of childhood, that’s what happened…even though the technique used was, in every situation, exactly the same. He hasn’t done enough such experiments, or in an organized enough fashion, to draw absolute conclusions…but it’s pretty strong evidence (stronger than that I’ve seen offered by many NLP advocates).
Now, I’m not one to dismiss things categorically…and if someone can produce actual, proper PROOF of NLP claims (that is, proper double-blind scientific studies — not anecdotes and personal experience), I’d certainly be interested to take a look.
But right now, all I see is NLP practitioners using the same tired excuses and arguments that religions use, that homeopathy uses, that Traditional Chinese Medicine uses, etc. And that is as follows:
1) Rely primarily on personal testimony. It has a strong emotional appeal, and can be very convincing, particularly as those who tell the stories believe it very sincerely — at least from their perspective, they’re telling the absolute truth. But it fails entirely to take into account confirmation bias and the placebo effect — as demonstrated with my example of the prayer study above.
2) Resist or even ridicule scientific study. “It is beyond the realm of science” “We never claimed it was scientific” “What we believe in can’t be measured” “There’s no need for scientific study, because we know it’s true.” NLP does make specific claims, about specific effects…it wouldn’t be difficult to test those claims in a proper, controlled study (just as was done with the claim about lying eyes, or the power of prayer). And if they truly believe in it, they should be the ones fighting the HARDEST to have those studies done. Yet, at least in my (admittedly limited) experience, I see the opposite. Such as the example above, by someone whom you apparently consider to be an authority on the topic, overtly stating that “we never claimed it is scientific”.
3) Use the “That’s not real NLP” defense (just like when a Christian does something bad, they say, “Oh, he’s not a real Christian” — the pseudo-scientist’s favorite “get out of jail free” card). If you can give me a solid list of exactly what is NLP, and state that anything not on that list is not NLP; and if you can demonstrate that at least a significant number of NLP practitioners would agree with that list; THEN I’d be willing to accept that other claims are “not real NLP”. But when no such list exists, when there is no such consensus among NLP practitioners, and when these complaints arise only AFTER a particular claim is demonstrably proven to be false, then I’m afraid it just doesn’t hold much water with me. This includes your claim that this is not a common claim within the NLP community, and yet even a cursory Google search reveals plentiful examples of people making exactly this claim…while this doesn’t demonstrate exactly what percentage of NLP practitioners make this claim, it certainly is not uncommon. (To be fair, there are also plenty of links in that same search that go to articles stating that the whole “lying eyes” thing is NOT part of NLP…although interestingly enough, ALL of them seem to have been written AFTER the study showing that it wasn’t true…I can’t seem to find many denials that pre-date this study).
Okay…I’ve said my piece 🙂 This is a topic of interest to me specifically because of the book I’m working on about critical thinking, which does touch on topics such as NLP (and raises the specific questions/criticisms listed above)…so I’d be interested if you have any rebuttal, and in particular any links to information that actually shows proper scientific research to validate NLP claims, and/or some “standard canon” of exactly what NLP is (so that I could then adequately judge whether a particular claim is actually a valid claim, or not). I DON’T want to put myself in the position of the author of the Skeptic’s Dictionary, where I’m presenting information about NLP inaccurately or unfairly.
That’s all…looking forward to your response (or that of anyone else)!
*NOTE* This message was originally sent as a private email to Andy, who asked me to post it here instead. All comments are welcome…with a warning that unless the person responding explicitly states otherwise, I will assume that all comments are public domain and may be quoted in my book.
I can see where you’re coming from, John.
Looking around it seems to be that this claim is strongly associated with NLP but that no-one even vaguely credible in the NLP field has made it.
Even in the heavily abused usenet forum, this claim is debunked every time it comes up:
So why is it so strongly associated with NLP? I suspect this is Samuel L Jackson’s fault. Or at least the screenplay writer for The Interrogator, where this claim is made.
Either way, the first sentence in the paper is flat-out wrong. Neither the creators of NLP, nor any known trainers of NLP, not even keyboard jockeys on the NLP USENET group make that claim.
In itself, the paper is rather redundant. Luckily however, there is some proper science in there, notably experiment 1. There are significantly fewer UL glances when lying.
As for science relating to NLP, there isn’t much. Being published doesn’t make something scientific.
It is all but impossible to conduct any double-blind experiment for skilled face-to-face intervention. This is true for all therapies.
A swedish NLP Trainer Bo Sjöberg claims he can reveal a lier and how to spot them.
Offered classes in that.
There is no evidence as I seen that offers any supported claim that NLP has any basis other than a psuedoscience. There is no evidence to provide a consensus in the NLP community that this is NLP and the suggestibility to assume and belive what stands in the books or taught in class is in any way real or actually works.
Teaching dyslexics how to read is easy for me, the model used without me present and applied would work for approximally 30% of the dyslexics applied on (across spectrum). That still is 28% better than any other model of the dyslexic field. If I work with them obviously those 30% dont apply anymore the number goes way up into the impossible for the people in the dyslexic field which btw are scientists, which btw use the same remarks and arguments provided by NLP and chinese medicin that the dyslexics I worked with wasnt real dyslexics.(they had dyslexic diagnoses from the science accepted in the field)
As noted the brain is highly sustiable to adapt and adjust to current conditions, if evidence offered agaisnt then cognitive dissonance happens and then the default mode happens, which offers rationalization that the critics are wrong about NLP. (not so much)
I spent 20 years defining what works and the way NLP is taught and understood and presented is at best, psuedoscience.
There is no evidence to support any of the claims or work people do in NLP which then provides that whatever people do that then actually works using NLP follows another explantion not known to those in the field of NLP.
That is for me more plausible or else the NLP people would offer measureable and quntifiable evidence to someone outside NLP that if you do this that happens and this is the reason and steps why that happens, a model as stated would provide that.(none exist in NLP)
I just dont take note that is NOT happening in NLP and the practitioners are then faced with an impossible paradox creating cognitive dissonance whenever someone asks about NLP as the field of NLP lacks definition.
They then run the same arguments, the same rationalizations and provide the same pattern.
I’ve read a lot of NLP, and though I’ve never taken any training, every piece of literature seems consistent with exploiting the power of the client’s expectations. In other words, you seem to suggest that it is hypnosis or placebo. I’m certain Richard Bandler, NLP co-founder, would agree that that’s at the core of a lot of what he does.
Scientific studies on NLP would seem to be like double blind studies on live music performance or the influences of CEOs. Each are highly dependent on specifics and personal skill and judgment. I’d go so far as to say that you’d be better off doing a double blind study on the practitioner than the practice: e.g. on Anthony Robbins, rather than on Tony’s Techniques.
Oh, btw. I didn’t read on. My comments are open to John for quotation!
Personally I’m never much impressed by long message like the one you posted. It looks *to me* too much like an attempt to stifle replies by posting an inordinately long message.
On that basis I will only reply to a few points I think are relevant:
> First, to clarify my position: I consider NLP and Traditional Chinese
> Medicine to be approximately similar
Fine, you’re entitled to have any view you like. But what’s your point?
Why this basically irrelevant detail in such a long post?
> They [NLPers] tend to be highly resistant to proper scientific
> double-blind study …
Rubbish. Try reading the material about blind studies in FAQ #32 on my website.
> … and rely far more on anecdotes and personal testimony (which are
> terribly unreliable and almost inevitably biased) than on solid
> scientific research.
How can you do “scientific” research on psychology?
Firstly there is no universally accepted definition of science, even among “scientists” and philosophers of science
Secondly psychology on its own can never treated the same way as chemistry, biology, etc. Because in psychology the “material” under investigation is so unpredictable. Can you imagine a magnet that only attracted ferrous objects painted green, or didn’t attract anything on a Sunday because of it’s religious beliefs?
> Now, to address both your email, and an article by Andy Bradbury addressing
> the Skeptic’s Dictionary article about NLP.
> You said, “I’ve never met anyone in the NLP field who makes such a claim”.
> I’d have to question how many people you’ve met in the NLP field, or how
> much research you did before writing this
I don’t know whether you’re referring to Andy S or Andy B, but here’s my CV, in no particular order
Regular conversations with JG over a number of years.
20 years reading and writing about NLP and using the techniques in my work as a personnel manager and IT trainer..
Numerous trainings with Grinder and Bandler’s organisations.
Degree in Social Psychology (including two years of weekly experimental projects with statistics, reports, etc.) and Master Practitioner qualification with a senior SoNLP trainer.
If you want more you might like to read your way through my website.
> because as ignorant as I am in general about NLP, compared to you or others
> talking about it, a quick Google search for “NLP lying eyes” revealed links to
> tons of sites that make this exact claim
Again, so what? Are you sure that the tons of site owners/authors are genuinely and accurately knowledgeable about authentic NLP-related subjects?
The details of the original authentic NLP techniques, models, etc. set by Bandler and Grinder (and to some extent, Frank Pucelik). After all, they did create them. Who do YOU think should have the knowledge to offer any more authoritative observations.
> Given “quite significant online presence of self-proclaimed NLP practitioners who
> very specifically make this claim, I don’t think it is at all inaccurate for others to
> refer to it as a technique that is promoted by NLP practitioners.”
I wonder if you’ve quite got the point?
The point isn’t whether ANYBODY said it, but whether anyone genuinely knowledgeable about the EACs model has said it.
The article by Wiseman et al fails because it is apparently based on the assumption that ANYONE’s view is a valid indication of what the EACs model is about, even if they aren’t familiar with the EACs or Eye Accessing Cues labels frequently used by genuinely knowledgeable NLPers (notice that the Wiseman et al article never mentions EACs or Eye Accessing Cues).
As a matter of interest, if we were using your logic, how many people would have to claim that Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity was a form of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy before that became a valid claim?
Would “tons” be sufficient? Would it EVER be true?
Degree in social psychology (two years of weekly experimental projects with statistics, reports, etc.
…because as ignorant as I am in general about NLP, compared to you or others talking about it, a quick Google search for “NLP lying eyes” revealed links to tons of sites that make this exact claim
Again, so what? Are the site owners/authors genuinely and accurately knowledgeable about authentic NLP-related subjects?
The details of the original authentic NLP techniques, models, etc. set by Bandler and Grinder (and to some extent, Frank Pucelik)
Given “quite significant online presence of self-proclaimed NLP practitioners who very specifically make this claim, I don’t think it is at all inaccurate for others to refer to it as a technique that is promoted by NLP practitioners.”
Don’t understand. How many people would have to claim that Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity was a form of therapy before that became – by YOUR logic – a valid claim.
BTW, John. You can quote from my posts AS LONG AS:
1. You do not remove my words from their original context. NO clipping the bits that suit your argument and ignoring the rest.
2. Any quote must have a link to the home page of my own NLP website.
3. Any quote must be accompanied by a statement that it has been copied from this discussion with the name of Andy Smith’s blog and the URl.
4. Any quote must be accompanied by a statement to the effect that after reading your views on NLP I don’t personally think you have much idea what your talking about – though I don’t object to you saying that this is indeed a *personal* opinion.
Do let us know when you will be puvblishing your book 🙂
Aha, John is the person I mentioned in my last comment.
Now, I just want to draw everyone’s attention to the final sentence in his comment: “All comments are welcome…with a warning that unless the person responding explicitly states otherwise, I will assume that all comments are public domain and may be quoted in my book.”
As this discussion is appearing on my blog, I have to assume the role of moderator. So:
Because this thread might get quite long, and future commenters might miss it unless they read every comment in the thread, I don’t think this is quite fair. I’m going to request that we preface each comment with whether or *not* it’s OK to quote in John’s book – if anyone doesn’t preface the comment, that would suggest that they missed the warning, so John would need to ask them if it’s OK to use the comment in his book (that’s assuming that any of us say anything worth quoting).
Is that OK with you, John?
Public domain, available for publication
Right, let’s dispose of a couple of points that don’t need much thought:
1. John, can I draw your attention to Reg’s comment above – he mentions some articles of his cautioning against using eye accessing cues as an indication of lying which have been around for some years. Even now, with all the stories about the study having come out recently, this one is on the front page of my Google results for ‘NLP eyes lying’: http://www.nlp-now.co.uk/eye_accessing.htm
I wonder how you missed it? (BTW as I understand it the same Google search may show up different results for different people, depending on where you are, what your previous search history is (?) etc
2. Re Andy Bradbury’s point about NLP not claiming to be scientific: I think we need to put that sentence you quoted in its context, so here’s the full paragraph (the book he’s talking about is ‘The Skeptic’s Dictionary’:
“Neuro-Linguistic Programming is now listed in two categories at the end of the book version: Alternative medicine (page 443), and misspelt in Junk science and pseudoscience (page 444). What the author has apparently overlooked is that (a) NLP isn’t any kind of medicine at all, alternative or otherwise, and (b) by his own definition, pseudoscience is: “Nonscientific theories that are claimed to be scientific by their advocates” (page 306). Since the co-creators of NLP have never claimed that NLP is scientific, this second claim is also entirely unjustified.”
I think the fact the Bandler and Grinder, the originators of NLP, never claimed it to be scientific is an entirely appropriate and successful rebuttal of the accusation of pseudoscience, as defined by the Skeptic’s Dictionary author making the claim.
What other ‘advocates’ of NLP choose to say is up to them. But if those advocates say it’s a science (ie a body of knowledge arrived at and expanded by the scientific method) they are mistaken, simple as that. You can probably find NLP practitioners who do say that, but you can probably find NLP practitioners who believe in wisdom channelled from astral entities. All sorts of people train as NLP practitioners, with varying levels of education, intellect, and critical thinking abilities. They bring with them all kinds of weird belief systems which don’t always loosen up as a result of the training.
(Note: my NLP practitioner certificate said I was certified in ‘the art and science of NLP’. When I started running my own NLP courses, I amended the certificates I issued to say ‘the art of NLP’ for precisely this reason.)
As I understand it (and no doubt Andy B will be along in a minute to speak for himself), he’s *not* saying, as John seems to be suggesting, that therefore NLP doesn’t generate testable hypotheses and its claims shouldn’t be researched. I think I have occasionally seen people in the NLP community make such a claim – I never found that claim remotely convincing.
Finally, how many NLP practitioners have I met, and should I get out more? Well, I trained as an NLP practitioner in 1995, Master Practitioner in 1996, NLP Trainer in 1997. I have run NLP practice groups (Richmond NLP Group, Manchester NLP Group, Manchester Business NLP and Emotional Intelligence Group) pretty much continuously from 1996 to 2011, and have attended many other NLP courses and conferences with different trainers. I have met hundreds of NLP practitioners and am on first name terms with many leading and not-so-leading NLP trainers in the UK and the USA, so that’s how many NLP practitioners I’ve met. Not one of whom ever mentioned eye accessing cues as a lie-detecting method. I suppose some of them may have thought it and not mentioned it.
John raises more interesting points that I haven’t mentioned, especially the ‘how do we define what’s NLP and what isn’t’ one, but I’ll let someone else have a turn now.
Public domain and quotable:
John, in reply to your point 3) which I’m reading as essentially ‘How do we know what is NLP and what isn’t?”
It’s a serious question deserving of a considered reply.
It’s true that as more people get into NLP, it expands in different directions, so we get things like ‘Energetic NLP’ and ‘Fourth Generation NLP’ (I’ve heard of these but have no idea what they are – I’m still finding plenty to use and get my head round in first and second-generation NLP). So you will find NLP practitioners making all sorts of statements, rather as you can probably find a doctor somewhere who doesn’t believe there’s a link between HIV and AIDS, or smoking and lung cancer. In fact, you will find more, because NLP doesn’t have a peer review system to decide what’s a legitimate part of the canon and what isn’t.
One place you could start would be with the writings and statements of Bandler and Grinder, the founders of NLP. There might be some difficulties if either of them make new discoveries which lead them to change their minds about some aspect of their earlier writings, or if they disagree with each other over some specific. I’m not aware of any situations like this, but I expect there are some.
Various organisations representing training bodies, or aiming to bring together different strands of NLP, have attempted to map out a curriculum for what should be in different levels of NLP training – e.g. the INLPTA or the ANLP. But these are created by ‘some people in the NLP field’ rather than a central, definitive canon, and also are pretty high-level. For example, eye accessing cues would be in there, but there wouldn’t be anything about whether you can use them for lie detection.
It may not be apparent to someone not trained in NLP that NLP does not consist of its applications (like eye accessing cues or the fast phobia cure). Rather, the heart of it is the NLP modelling process. The techniques are the results of that process, and more are being discovered all the time. John Grinder makes a useful distinction between NLP (modelling), NLP (application) – which includes the phobia cure etc – and NLP (training).
Because it’s a growing field of patterns which have been modelled from people who ‘naturally’ do certain things well, plus also some ideas imported from other areas such as Gestalt Therapy and Behavioural Psychology, NLP (application) is a big, baggy, ‘open-textured’ concept which doesn’t necessarily hang together as a neat or elegant conceptual whole.
I read an article in the now sadly defunct ‘NLP World’ magazine ages back which pointed out that consequently, skeptics can pick on what they think is the weakest part of NLP (usually they’ve gone for the eye accessing cues), do the kind of study that Andy B lays into on his website, and claim that this discredits NLP as a whole.
So, how do we decide what’s NLP or not? Because someone, somewhere, who has trained as an NLP practitioner (and there isn’t much quality control or rigorous policing of standards in training, however strict some individual training providers are) says that something is NLP, is it NLP? And how is someone with no background in NLP, with little knowledge to go on, to assess whether such claims are part of NLP or not? It’s not an easy question.
NLP is a bit like kung fu, in the sense that someone who knows what they are doing can tell whether someone else’s kung fu is good or not, even if an outsider can’t tell the difference. In a Hong Kong chopsocky movie, there’s only one way to decide whose kung fu is best, and everyone, kung-fu trained or not, can tell who the winner is. With NLP, it’s not so easy.
(I would not like to be quoted in John Lombards book without my permission)
I wanted to add that so much of all the debate over whether or not NLP is a science or not has been actually overtaken by modern scientific research.
There’s overwhelming, scientific evidence that we construct and reconstruct our reality. There’s no doubt whatsoever that we have perceptual biases and that they determine our choices and actions. The research is in from cognitive linguistics for decades about the perceptual impact of language and framing. A lot of the Meta-model patterns of logic are covered in the research from CBT for example. All the EQ and mindfulness research confirms the scientific basis for learning to change state and the positive benefits of doing so. Mirror-neurones appear to validate matching, mirroring for rapport, modelling etc The fields of heuristics, behavioural economics, learning, memory, perception, biofeedback and other contemporary approaches to patterning human behaviour all seem to be in accord with the principles of how we work in NLP.
In NLP we are not offering magical thinking and using social persuasion for people to believe dodgy stuff. There isn’t really an argument to be had – it’s a non-controversy.
NLP uses what is provable and credible to create tools and a skills training, to apply in practical ways, what are now known as reasonable and tested theories of learning and change.
Eye accessing cues is probably the only contentious area as it takes time and training to know what sort of patterns someone is offering you and what to make of them. It’s not a button-pushing ‘read-the-robot’ kind of thing.
It’s always so strange to me that anyone still thinks NLP is controversial in any way. The practical tools are everywhere being used. No-one would ask the Olympic athletes not to explore the structure of high performance – focus on their goals, transform limiting beliefs, optimise their state etc. Yet somehow if it’s part of NLP it’s some kind of weird scam.
NLP tools and approaches are widely used because actually they are entirely sane and reasonable ways of enhancing communication, learning, creativity, relationship and performance .
The issues in our field are more about the quality of the training and the skills development of people who have only attended the very short taster courses and/or the people who are using patterns of persuasion for egoistic, commercial reasons. But hey so do some politicians, preachers, entertainers etc NLP didn’t invent this.
I appreciate that there are people with NLP training who make some wild claims and do some unpleasant thing. This does not invalidate NLP itself as a respectable and innovative field of study.
NLP has brought into the world an exceptionally elegant approach to being able to acquire learning and skill. It’s such a shame that we continue to get bogged down in all these ridiculous non-arguments about being a cult, a scam, a pseudo-science etc
Really appreciate Reg’s article too and have tweeted it on to Richard Wiseman.
“NLP uses what is provable and credible to create tools and a skills training, to apply in practical ways, what are now known as reasonable and tested theories of learning and change.”
Well John is saying ‘Where’s the proof? Where are the tests of these theories?” It’s a reasonable question.
I would say the theories are testable, but not much properly-designed testing has been done yet. Richard Bolstad’s forthcoming article will reference some research specific to eye accessing cues – not available yet, but when it is it will appear on his site http://transformations.net.nz and I will post a link to it.
It was very interesting to hear Steve Peters, the psychologist who coached the Team GB cycling squad fir the 2008 olympics….what he was doing was basically NLP, though a bit clunkily !!
A further, briefer, observation on John’s post, with a very relevant reply to Judith:
“And then there’s the article by Andy Bradbury. First, I agree with him that the article in the Skeptic’s Dictionary is poorly researched, and does have some inaccurate claims and criticisms. But putting that aside, the biggest thing that jumped out at me was this particular quote:
“Since the co-creators of NLP have never claimed that NLP is scientific, this second claim is also entirely unjustified”
Well I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment that “NLP is not scientific”, I am rather surprised to hear someone who is defending NLP using this as an argument to DEFEND it.” “You can’t criticize us for being unscientific or pseudo-scientific because we’ve never claimed to be scientific in the first place”.
Again, a quick Google search for “scientific proof of NLP” revealed tons of sites that claim that it IS scientific, and that there is scientific research to support it
—————– end quote ——————–
Well, my claim is based on (a) the fact that plain psychology is not “scientific” since it involves too many uncontrolable variables. A lump of iron is a lump of iron and isn’t self-directed. A human being, on the other hand, can change their ideas about something several times a minute without the experimenter ever knowing about it. And (b) on this passage in Frogs into Princes (page ):
“As modelers, we’re not interested in whether what we offer you is true or not, whether its accurate or whether it can be neurologically proven to be accurate, an actual representation of the world. We’re *only* interested in *what works*.”
In other words, whilst “scientific evidence” may turn up to support this idea or the other, that wasn’t what Bandler and Grinder regarded as being the measure of the success/value of their models and techniques.
Judith, your comment is quite correct, of course. Indeed some people may be surprised to find that Stephen Hawking, no less, in his recent book “The Grand Design” actually defines modern science (in part) in terms of the model NLPers will recognise as the presupposition that “people don’t react to reality but to their own model of reality”. Hawking and his co-author, Leonard Mlodinow (also a physicist – at Caltech), start their first discussion of the subject – which they call “model-dependent realism” on page 16, and a second, related discussion on perceptions on page 62. (These page numbers refer to the paperback version published in 2011.)
Well, John, it goes with my claim that only Bandler and Grinder have an absolute right to be regarded as authorities on the techniques and models they created (except where they have bee
Thanks, Andy…allow me to clarify again that while I’m definitely skeptical of many NLP claims, my purpose here is to educate myself. In particular, to discover more clearly what exactly “standard” NLP claims would be (and which, like ‘lying eyes’, may be considered fringe); and what evidence there is to support those claims.
First, in regards to the whole “permission to reproduce” thing, I can go along with your suggestion…and will add that if someone says something without giving explicit permission, if I want to use it, I will attempt to get their permission before doing so.
Now, to your responses:
“Even now, with all the stories about the study having come out recently, this one is on the front page of my Google results for ‘NLP eyes lying’: http://www.nlp-now.co.uk/eye_accessing.htm
I wonder how you missed it?” As you mentioned, Google results do vary from user to user, and that didn’t come up within the first 20 results of my search. Thank you for the link, I will look at it in more detail later.
“I think the fact the Bandler and Grinder, the originators of NLP, never claimed it to be scientific is an entirely appropriate and successful rebuttal of the accusation of pseudoscience, as defined by the Skeptic’s Dictionary author making the claim.” I’m sorry, but that’s just sophistry and semantics.
It doesn’t matter whether or not Bandler and Grinder made that explicit claim; it matters whether the practitioners of NLP state that they make empirical claims that can be measured, or that they make claims that cannot be evaluated or measured.
If the former, then show us the evidence (and if you are unable to, then the label of “pseudoscience is entirely appropriate); if the latter, then you are correct that it doesn’t deserve the title of “pseudoscience”…it deserves to be called “mysticism” or “religion”. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which it is.
“All sorts of people train as NLP practitioners, with varying levels of education, intellect, and critical thinking abilities. They bring with them all kinds of weird belief systems which don’t always loosen up as a result of the training.” And again, the label of “mysticism” or “religion” seems to be more applicable here, as it is in THOSE categories where this kind of statement is most true. In scientific endeavors, you don’t really get to say, “Well, I studied biology, and came to the conclusion that maggots are spontaneously generated from maggots”…because if you make such a claim, it can be immediately demonstrated false by simple testing of the claim.
If NLP has testable hypotheses, then test them, and show us the results; if it doesn’t have testable hypotheses, then at best it falls into the same category as religion, where one relies on faith, and can believe pretty much whatever they want to.
“As I understand it (and no doubt Andy B will be along in a minute to speak for himself), he’s *not* saying, as John seems to be suggesting, that therefore NLP doesn’t generate testable hypotheses and its claims shouldn’t be researched.” If NLP has testable hypotheses, then what are they? Where are the proper studies to test those hypotheses? Seems to me that, given the fairly knowledgeable people here, if such studies exist, it should be possible to link to them so that I can check them out? And if they don’t exist…well, my understanding is that NLP has at least three decades of history behind it, and it doesn’t seem terribly convincing to me if, after three decades, these “testable hypotheses” have not been verified.
“NLP is a bit like kung fu, in the sense that someone who knows what they are doing can tell whether someone else’s kung fu is good or not, even if an outsider can’t tell the difference.” Out of all your comments, this is the one I have the biggest difficulty with; it is the very antithesis of “critical thinking”. Basically, what you are saying is that it is IMPOSSIBLE for any lay person to determine if a particular person claiming to teach NLP is actually knowledgeable, or is completely full of bullshit. That only a “real NLP professional” can identify if another person’s claims are also “real NLP”. Which, of course, leaves me with the problem that when YOU claim to be the “real” one, and the other guy ALSO claims to be the “real” one…which one do I believe? You’ve given me no standard, no criteria at all.
Again, this sounds much more like the argumentation used by religions, and by various pseudo-scientific types, than by someone who has actual “testable hypotheses”. Testable hypotheses CAN be tested; and non-experts CAN use the results of those tests to determine the veracity of the claims. I don’t have to be an expert on cars to know which models are safest…I can check out the results of tests done by others, and reach a reasonable conclusion for myself. It is objective.
What you are describing, from beginning to end, seems to be an entirely subjective experience; only a “real expert” can tell if what others are doing is “real NLP”, yet there’s no criteria for an outsider to determine which “real expert” to trust.
Please forgive what I know is a rather aggressive style here…I have a strong tendency towards aggressive testing of claims made by others, particularly those of which I am skeptical. If you can show me actual verifiable evidence of those claims, I’m open to examine that evidence, and if necessary re-examine and even change my own conclusions. But I’m afraid that what I’ve been given thus far falls rather far short of that standard.
I DO very much appreciate you taking the time to address my questions, and you HAVE done so in a very open and honest manner; I don’t intend in any way to imply that I think you’re being dishonest, or anything like that; no more than I think that a Muslim priest who sincerely believes what he is teaching is being dishonest, even though I think his beliefs are complete bunk.
But I do find a dreadful lack of real critical thinking in evaluating the claims of NLP. I don’t even need to know WHAT the actual claims ARE to see this, as the responses thus far (is it scientific or not? does it have testable hypotheses? If so, what are they, and have they been properly tested? and is there an objective standard for determining what is NLP, and what is not?) fall quite far on the side of the non-critical thinking fence.
A summary for those who may follow up…the specific questions I’d appreciate having addressed:
1) Is NLP scientific or not? If yes, what testable hypotheses does it have, how have those hypotheses been tested, and what were the results?
2) Is there an objective standard for me to determine what is “real NLP”, and what is not? If some guy comes to me claiming to be an NLP trainer, by what standard can I determine if his claims are valid, or invalid, according to “conventional NLP”?
To make everything clear, so that there are no later claims of deceit or hidden agendas, my book specifically addresses the two questions above, in regards not just to NLP, but in regards to many other claims that I consider to fall in a similar category (homeopathy, traditional Chinese medicine, psychic powers, etc.). If you can provide me with concrete information that counters my contention that NLP cannot provide any objective method of evaluation, it is massively appreciated, and I’ll definitely change my claims, and remove NLP from this section of the book. If not, then I will be able to state that even when presented to a group of experienced, knowledgeable NLP trainers/experts, they were still unable to provide such an objective method, and that NLP fully deserves to be left in the same category with all these others…that is, that it is a subjective issue which AT BEST can be verified only by those who are themselves experts, but which leaves others no means to determine which people really ARE experts, thus rendering it essentially pointless; and at WORST has nothing valid to it at all.
Public domain, available for publication:
John, let’s follow up your summary points:
1) I think we’re in a bit of semantic confusion here – I was taking ‘scientific’ to mean ‘is a science’ whereas you’re taking scientific to mean ‘generates testable hypotheses’. NLP definitely generates testable hypotheses, though some of them would need quite a lot of care in the test design. Mind you, Chinese Medicine generates testable hypotheses too. So does homeopathy, although in this case as far as I know the research that’s been done doesn’t give us any reason to believe them.
I think the people involved in the 2 NLP research projects that I linked to in my original article would agree with you that the hypotheses need testing. How much they’ve done in the way of actual studies so far I’m not sure – at least one of them was still in the experiment design / fundraising stage last time I looked.
Which reminds me – proper studies cost money, not something that the NLP field is awash with. And you have to interest qualified researchers in doing them. The research projects are making a start on this.
2. I refer you to my previous answer. It’s fuzzy at the moment. That’s the best you’re going to get, from me anyway.
I did read an academic article (sorry, a long time ago, no reference available) which said something similar about CBT – the field had evolved so much it was no longer clear exactly what was CBT and what wasn’t.
Quote: “Basically, what you are saying is that it is IMPOSSIBLE for any lay person to determine if a particular person claiming to teach NLP is actually knowledgeable, or is completely full of bullshit.”
Well, I do think it’s impossible for people to design experiments to test hypotheses coming from NLP unless they at least take some trouble to find out whether the hypothesis comes from NLP, or is someone’s misinterpretation (as I take the ‘lying eyes’ thing to be) or just something that some NLP practitioner has made up.
Have you seen this summary of research on NLP that Richard Bolstad put together? http://www.transformations.net.nz/trancescript/research-on-nlp.html
I think he has a new article with more up to date research coming out – I don’t know when though but I’ll post it in this discussion if I remember.
“It doesn’t matter whether or not Bandler and Grinder made that explicit claim; it matters whether the practitioners of NLP state that they make empirical claims that can be measured,”
This is frankly bonkers.
It really means “We’re scientists and we’re the greatest thing since sliced bread abnd we can say black is white if we want and you plebs have got to agree cauuse we’re scientists and you aren’t!
Tough, John. That view is delusional and out of date (see my reference to Hawking & Mlodinow). Still, if you’re a psychologist you’ve possibly never been anything but delusional in your perceptions, especially about psychology itself (see Michael Gazzaniga, “The Mind’s Past” (1998), page xi: “Psychology itself is dead.”)
Wake up, there’s a fresh pot of coffee on, and you’re missing it.
Sorry, apparently can’t edit posts…the above sentence that “Well, I studied biology, and came to the conclusion that maggots are spontaneously generated from maggots” should read “Well, I studied biology, and came to the conclusion that maggots are spontaneously generated from dead meat.”
John, thanks for being reasonable about the ‘permission to quote’ thing.
NLP Eye Accessing, The Pseudo-Science Stuff.. with the Olympics thrown in. | Judith Lowe's NLP and other stories
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Well, I think I’ll leave it here for a while as my will to live is starting to drain away. John, I hope you’ve found it worth your while and that it’s given you some more directions to look in.
Everyone else, please feel free to continue to comment. Keep it nice and back your claims up with research where it’s available.
(Note to NLPers before you hold up your hands in horror, I’m deliberately matching a style of communication here)
QUOTE ME HAPPY! – but ONLY EVER in context.
Generally, I’m wondering on what basis your make an opinion that many practitioners are resistant to research? I think most NLPers would actually support research, indeed there are several institutions such as the Universities of Kingston and Surrey who are actively taking an interest in NLP. There is also the NLP Research project.
As to your own position. What written literature of NLP have you read on which you base your opinion? Can you be specific about which you have actually read?
From a Critical Thinking point of view, You may remember that Empricism is one of many approaches to Scientific research. To pick only empiricism is an overly narrow definition of ‘Science’. Therefore to disregard any other approach of research methods is in itself unscientific.
Furthermore, Although you discount Semantics with ‘just’, Semantics is what matters here. for meaning is critical and (In my sincerest, humble opinion), it would be useful to have a lot more critical thinking to promote clarity!
More specifically, The ‘research study’ makes a categorical fallacy of composition. It claims proponents as NLP Practitioners (as a homogenous group.) There is no attempt to differentiate between NLP Practitioners and simply other untrained people who claim to use NLP. There is no evidence that the two groups are encompassed as a whole as ‘proponents’ of the same behaviour, nor the seeking out of that evidence to confirm homogeneity. Furthermore, the research paper recommends that ‘NLP Practitioners’ cease the alleged practice. This presupposes that ‘all’ NLP Practitioners include lie detection practice.This distortion has led inaccurate reports, including the BBC to state that lie detection is a key element of NLP. This misinformation has now spread worldwide.
Therefore one can suggest for its own vested interests, that either the research group did not consider:
1. The lack of a quantification to differentiate between ‘proponents’ by the research team is deliberate, whether or not there exists a positive intention to ‘serve science.’
2. A lack of research to discover to whom this practise of ‘lie detection’ applies, and to what extent the NLP Model extends in theory (within the literature) AND IN PRACTICE.
Whichever reason is selected, it undermines the integrity of the research and its authority.
Furthermore, The ‘research study’ also uses a highly selective partial diagram of NLP eye accessing cues, thereby degrading the entire model. By doing so, the full description of the eye accessing cues technique is false and by definition, the data set is seriously undermined.
Regrettably this research joins the previous papers written by Sharpley & Heap who undertook research into areas outside their area of expertise (and judgement.) This is documented in depth by Andy Bradbury on his website.
The study highlights an urban myth and declares it false. That is a good thing for NLPers and other professionals.
Where it went horribly wrong is that they overstated roles and understated facts.
Regrettably, I expect no apology or explanation from the two university team in general nor Professor Wiseman, but then the scientific establishment have always resisted the newparadigm until it becomes so obvious that the old paradigm is nonsense.
lots of love
The fifth paragraph from bottom should read:
Furthermore, The ‘research study’ also uses a highly selective partial diagram of NLP eye accessing cues, thereby degrading the entire model. By doing so, the full description of the eye accessing cues technique is MISSING and by definition, the data set is seriously undermined.
Just so that I’m not labelled as a conspiracy theorist,.. let me affirm that I’m sure there is perfectly rational explanation for this.
I would also like be on record as saying that I do not believe that a serious publisher of academic research would, in any circumstances, seek to manage the feedback from those who criticise the papers it has published.
However I am curious…
…this morning (18 July 2012) there were 8 comments which were critical of the scientific diligence demonstrated in the work “The Eyes Don’t Have It: Lie Detection and Neuro-Linguistic Programming” by Dr Wiseman et al.
Yet, this evening just 5 comments remain.
(John Lombard please note: I agree with the sentiments expressed by Judith Lowe: please request my written permission if you wish to include in your own book any of my content expressed in this blog or on any of the Pegasus NLP websites. We diligently use Copyscape to monitor our copyright.)
“He who replies to doubt,
doth put the light of knowledge out.
A riddle or a cricket’s cry
is to doubt a fit reply.
He who doubts from what he sees,
will ne’re be convinced
do what you please.”
. — William Blake
I am fine with being quoted as long as the context is included so that the meaning of individual ideas are not skewed by leaving out the context, and I hereby place this into the public domain.
Very interesting discussion. It seems to me that part of the problem comes down to epistemology — how we know what we know. Science and the scientific method look for universal truths that have been validated by trying to prove them wrong. NLP looks for algorithms that are useful for creating results with particular individuals.
Many of these pragmatic algorithms may be able to be proved in the “science frame,” but as a community, NLPers have not been very interested in taking time to research and prove them. Fortunately for the world, many psychologists are picking up some of that they see from the clinical reports of practitioners and putting the rigor behind studies that attempt make NLP models more scientifically valid. For instance, rapport matching of rhythms, Shapiro’s EMDR, Peter Gollwitzer’s Implementation intention (future pacing), etc. (Note: We advanced NLPers should gather these examples into a single place.)
But one of the key principles of NLP work is to approach each client as cleanly (atheoretically) as possible and use your own pattern-discovery abilities to determine how they do what they do.
Applying this principle offers an advantage over a scientific method. It means that as you approach that individual, you are encouraged to observe what is actually going on rather than project what you expect might be going on. This is a different epistemological foundation for discovery than science uses. And it is not very useful for the scientific aim of discovery of a common “truth.”
One of the problems of the applying scientific method to social sciences is that their subjects are living systems that tend to be rather chaotic and certainly complex. There is a lot of variation from one person to another at the level of complexity that is our personality, ego structure, and individual behaviors. Therefore it is difficult to lump all individuals into a single category and attempt to figure out what the “truth” is about how they are and how they will behave.
Sometimes you can explain cause / effect patterns post hoc, but predictability tends to be very low among interpersonal theories. And because humans are complex individual agents and not machines, it is even less likely that you can prescribe a change. This is why the social sciences have such a poor record with helping people make the changes that they desire. They are using the only epistemology that they believe in, scientific method, but it is not applicable to complex-dynamic agents interacting with one another.
Therefore when a psychologist does a double-blind experiment they attempt to constrain the participants in ways that are not only not similar to real life, but further they look for the “norms” averaged across a group, the experimental population and compare it to the “norms” across the control population. At best this will reveal only what the range of behavior is likely to be, not how a specific individual will respond to a particular protocol.
The Roots of NLP go back to a different epistemology than that underlying science. Rather than ask how a population responds and expect that everyone is similar, we begin with the assumption that everyone may well be different and ask ourselves, what are the repeating patterns in THIS individual? What relates to what for this particular person?
Rather than bring a theory of known “truths” about how humans behave to our exploration of the individual we attempt (not always so successfully) to self-monitor our own projections of ideas and theories and separate them from what is concretely observable in this particular client. We try to come to each interaction with “fresh eyes.”
Rather than believe that it is possible to say once and for all, how living humans will respond and prescribe treatments in a rote way, we attempt to establish an on-going relationship of feedback loops to steer the client toward their desired goal. Where science tends to fix the procedure and hope that it will produce the results it did last time (on average), we tend to fix the end goal and keep varying the means until we reach the desired state.
John, you say that your “…purpose here is to educate myself. In particular, to discover more clearly what exactly “standard” NLP claims would be (and which, like ‘lying eyes’, may be considered fringe); and what evidence there is to support those claims.”
I wonder what your ultimate intention is in writing about NLP without actually studying it? I presume it might be something like you want to warn certain ignorant, and misguided (unthinking?) people of the world against some charlatanism that might take their hard earned money and waste their time?
If so, that is certainly an honorable mission. We both want what is best for a greater number of people in the world.
So I ask you in good faith, what if there were no claims to NLP? What if it were only a set of ideas, “religion” or otherwise, that are perceived by our customers to be very useful? What if those results were perceived by you, in person, to be at least as useful as the scientifically grounded reality that is currently extant in the social sciences? Would you be willing to believe your own eyes, or would you prefer to believe in the theories of social science even though their own best interventions work so inconsistently?
When it comes to practical application of interpersonal change-work, I don’t care what the theory says. If I can see with my own eyes that the client is getting better in response to what we have been doing together, and they are happy with the results, then I am convinced enough — though please note that I never allow myself the luxury to believe that these results are some ultimate “truth.”
In the domain of complex interpersonal and social systems it is all only a “model” of reality, and it is not possible to know for sure what reality ultimately is because our experience is always subjective and the underlying subject of investigation is agents who are free to change and respond to the complexity of their own body-mind system.
I agree with Andy’s comment – and his wish…
Thank you guys, Andy and Reg, for the compliment.
Keith, that’s an open-hearted and clearly expressed response – I wish I’d written it!
Excellent post – especially this:
“The Roots of NLP go back to a different epistemology than that underlying science. Rather than ask how a population responds and expect that everyone is similar, we begin with the assumption that everyone may well be different and ask ourselves, what are the repeating patterns in THIS individual? What relates to what for this particular person?”
That is, IMO, absolutely on the money.
And compare it with academic style research – where results are indeed always about groups of subjects in which the final profile, whilst statistically true FOR THE GROUP may not fit a single person in the group in all respects.
Straw men are just so much easier to deal with than reality, though to be fair, that isn’t a situation unique to psychologists.
John, here’s another article about the difficulties of ‘testing’ NLP that you may find interesting, from some years back by Stever Robbins, who is highly respected in the NLP world: http://www.steverrobbins.com/nlpschedule/random/sciprove.html
Thanks for the link. As I said on NLP talk, when I saw that I was cited as a source in the article I checked the original (https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/Digitization/133408NCJRS.pdf) and he accurately quotes me but misuses the quotation to suggest that I meant it as a lie detector. Following Andy Bradbury’s consistent observation, many of these authors either misunderstand or distort the material that they critique based on their own maps of the world.
Just to let you know that John Lombard has emailed me to say he hasn’t gone away or ignored what you’ve posted – he’s somewhat busy this week and also is taking some time to read the links that various people have suggested to him, and will be back soon to respond.
First, I promise 100% that any quotes will be given in full context. I have no desire to misrepresent the arguments given, particularly as I feel that most of those arguments, without any misrepresentation, quite adequately support my argument. Let me address a few issues here:
1) It seems that there is pretty much universal consensus, at least among this group, that it is impossible for a non-NLP expert to differentiate between what is “real NLP”, and what is not. At least, I can’t see anywhere above where anyone has suggested how to do so, and several posts seem to explicitly state that it can’t be done.
This, in and of itself, renders “study” of NLP rather pointless. I mean…if I AM going to study it, WHO DO I BELIEVE? Since there’s no way of differentiating between who is the “real NLP expert”, and who is not, I don’t really know where to begin. Of course, I can start with the original authors as a core…but do I then conclude that anyone who says anything different from them is not “real NLP”? I suspect that even among those responding to me here, you’d have some theories and ideas about NLP that either were not proposed by the original authors, or that are different from theirs. Does that mean I should declare it “not real NLP”?
This is, to me, no different than religion, or any other such field, where people can say whatever they want, and simply dismiss anyone who disagrees with them as “not real believers”. In fact, if I were to talk with a group of NLP practitioners who had ideas and practices very different from your own, I’m VERY confident that they’d claim THEY had the “real NLP”, and that it is YOU guys who are misguided.
2) In regards to double-blind studies, I have Andy Bradbury’s argument that NLP CANNOT and apparently SHOULD NOT be studied scientifically…a claim that, first and foremost, seems to be directly at odds with the statements of other NLP “experts” on this very board, who have explicitly stated that NLP actually CAN be evaluated empirically, and CAN be tested scientifically.
So once again, even with such a tiny number of NLP practitioners, all of whom seem to generally have similar ideas, there is a complete lack of agreement or consensus even about what NLP is, and whether it can be tested or not.
That, too, is a major warning signal.
And Andy, your arguments seeking to equate psychology to NLP are rather poorly chosen. Yes, there are certain aspects of psychology that are not amenable to empirical study…and I treat any claims of that nature with the exact SAME skepticism that I’m treating YOUR claims about NLP.
HOWEVER — and this is a very important point which you just glossed over or ignored entirely — there are a great many claims within the field of psychology that CAN and HAVE been scientifically tested and verified. It is PROVEN that taking certain drugs will benefit people with certain psychological conditions. It is PROVEN that certain psychological conditions respond positively to certain treatments (be they physical, such as brain surgery; or using medications; or other similar possibilities). It is PROVEN because there have been numerous double-blind studies done that have indicated, undeniably, that people who receive those treatments have significantly better results than those who do not (or who receive alternative treatments).
A rather poorly chosen example, in my opinion.
I’ve got more, to explain my arguments more concretely, but will do so in another post, to avoid making one single lengthy post.
This won’t mean much to non-UK readers, but:
Different versions of NLP, but which is best? Only one way to find out: FIIIIGHT!
Now, let me address the whole “testing” issue more directly. Andy Smith helpfully sent an article to me that lists several tests that have been done to verify some NLP claims, specifically those of eye accessing clues. The first study referenced doesn’t even come close to double-blinded, as it is an NLP practitioner both administering the test, AND interpreting the results…AND there is only one group, no control group, nothing else. This kind of study is SO blatantly susceptible to confirmation bias and personal prejudice that no scientist anywhere would take it as ‘proof’ of anything.
The second test is somewhat better, in that it uses different control groups; but again, the test is not double-blinded. The researchers know which group is which, and their interpretations are subject to personal bias. In a proper double-blind study, even the researchers don’t know who is who, and must interpret results without the slightest clue as to which group each person belonged to.
Not to mention the fact that a quick search about the author of that study revealed that he’s a book publishing machine, and generates profit from his claims about NLP. That doesn’t prove that he deliberately did anything dishonest…but I’d certainly want to see repetition and confirmation of his results from someone who DIDN’T personally benefit financially from “proving” that it works.
Not that long ago, a similar “study” was done that “proved” that vaccination led to autism…and started the whole anti-vaccination craze that we have today. The fact that a decade later it was PROVEN that the scientist in question had falsified his data, AND had profited financially from his claims (selling numerous books on the subject, and becoming a highly paid speaker), hasn’t done much to dampen the passion of the anti-vaccination lobby.
Now, Andy Bradbury asked me why I raised the comparison of NLP to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). There was a deliberate reason for this…because in doing research for my book, I also did quite a bit of research in this area. I’ve been living/working in China for 20 years now, and have quite a few connections in this regard.
Initially, the claims of TCM practitioners were very similar to those that Andy Bradbury is making…that the very nature of TCM makes it impossible to test empirically. For example, a TCM doctor may see three patients who have exactly the same symptoms, but diagnose the cause as being a different kind of ‘imbalance’ in each case (too much ‘heat’, too much ‘wood element’, too much ‘yang’, etc.); and prescribe an entirely different treatment for each one. Since every diagnosis AND treatment is different, it is impossible to study them as a group.
This is a claim that TCM practitioners have been making for a long time…but it is false. It may be that I cannot test the diagnosis…but I CAN test the actual RESULTS. TCM claims that it is able to cure people of various ailments and conditions with equal or greater efficacy than ‘western’ or ‘scientific’ medicine. We can therefore take groups of people who have the same conditions, and test which group has a higher recovery/cure rate.
I (and some other Chinese doctors, who’ve been fighting against TCM for quite some time) decided to test this in regard to cancer treatment. There are a great many Chinese who, when diagnosed with cancer, refuse to get scientific medical treatment, and instead go to a TCM doctor. The “fact” that they have cancer is undeniable, and was agreed by all sides.
So, we did a two year study where we had Chinese cancer patients who went to TCM doctors, and cancer patients who received scientific medical treatment. At the end of two years, the results were tabulated (and were done in proper double-blind fashion, with ONLY the patient’s condition after two years listed…no identifying information about what kind of treatment they received during that period was provided, and it was assessed by a group of both TCM and proper doctors, none of whom had been involved in treating the patients involved).
Not surprisingly, the results demonstrated quite unequivocally that patients who had received TCM treatment had a far, FAR lower recovery/survival rate than those who’d received scientific treatment. In fact, it was SO ABYSMALLY LOW that a number of TCM doctors involved in the study actually announced that they would no longer offer TCM treatment to cancer patients, and instead tell them to get proper scientific treatment.
This applies to only one category…but I’m sure that the results in any other category of medical care would prove to be similar, if tested.
As Andy Smith and others have stated, there ARE specific claims made by NLP that ARE testable…such as claims that eye movement in certain directions indicates accessing certain areas of the brain. An example of how such a claim could be PROPERLY tested:
Get a group of volunteers who’ve never heard of NLP. Hook them up to a scanner that measures brain activity. Ask them a variety of questions, with a video camera to capture any eye movement. Have some questions asked by a NLP practitioner, others asked by someone who has no idea about NLP (this is because of the natural tendency of people to mimic…a NLP practitioner, anticipating a particular kind of eye movement, may make that eye movement themselves, and then the other person would mirror it…having someone who has no idea about NLP removes any such possibility).
Once finished, correlate all the information: from the brain scans, which areas of the brain were most active, and what direction were the eyes moving at that time? To ensure it is properly blinded, no names or identifying information are provided, and the people evaluating the results DO NOT KNOW what questions were being asked…they ONLY know what part of the brain was active, and what direction the eyes moved.
AFTER correlating all that information, compare the ACTUAL results with the questions asked. IF we find that there is a significant correlation between eye movement, brain activity, and the kinds of questions being asked, as predicted by NLP, then I’d be happy to state that this is strong evidence to support this particular claim.
And back to Andy Bradbury…from the article you linked to about testable claims and empirical truth…you quotation from Bandler and Grinder, which apparently you agree with:
“As modelers, we’re not interested in whether what we offer you is true or not, whether it’s accurate or whether it can be neurologically proven to be accurate, an actual representation of the world. We’re only interested in what works.”
This is one of the BEST examples of double-speak that I could hope for…it SOUNDS so damn profound, and yet upon examination, it means less than nothing.
To whit…”we’re only interested in what works”…well…HOW THE HELL DO WE KNOW WHAT WORKS, if it isn’t tested? Tell me…what exactly is your standard to determine “what works”? Personal experience?
In the case of the TCM doctors listed above, their “personal experience” had CONVINCED them absolutely that TCM worked for treating cancer. They believed this because of confirmation bias. These were people who VERY SINCERELY believed that they were helping others…they weren’t people who sought to defraud or hurt anyone.
After the study, one of these TCM doctors actually cried, and thanked us…because he said if we hadn’t done this, he would have continued believing that his treatments worked, and he would have been hurting people.
Now, in regards to NLP, I don’t think that it’s “hurting” people, as such, at least not physically. It’s not dangerous in the way that TCM is.
But the arguments that I hear being used to support it are identical to the arguments that were used by TCM practitioners…and we’ve more than adequately proven that, in a least one category, their claims were completely false.
If you’re interested in “what works”, then PROVE THAT IT WORKS. Skip the pseudo-philosophic psycho-babble, which really just comes across as evasion and double-speak, intended to cover up or evade any legitimate discussion or evaluation.
To others — I really DO appreciate your contributions, and Andy Smith in particular has made a real effort to link to more definitive proof of NLP claims.
To Andy Bradbury — I’m sorry, but you come across simply as the “true believer”, the person who is soooo convinced of their ‘reality’ or ‘truth’ that there is no need to either question or examine it, and anyone who DOES question it is “the enemy”. And sadly, you seem to expect that everyone else should apply the same complete lack of desire to determine ‘truth’ of particular claims, or to rationally evaluate what actually ‘works’, that you yourself seem to suffer from.
Thanks John. Before you commit your suggested experiment design to print, I do suggest that you read the detailed discussion of eye accessing cues in ‘Frogs Into Princes’ because it anticipates a flaw in your experiment design. This being, if you ask someone a question expected to elicit a ‘visual remembered’ response, such as ‘What colour is your front door?’, the test subject might get a ‘constructed’ image of the door floating in space, with no house around it, so their eyes would be going the ‘wrong’ way. People think in many different ways.
I think Richard Bolstad references a study somewhere that suggested that learners’ spelling improved if they were encouraged to look up and to their left when they were trying to remember how to spell a word and got worse when they looked down… don’t have the reference in front of me though.
Actually, I’d consider that a STRENGTH of my experiment design. Right now, if someone doesn’t look in the anticipated direction, the NLP “true believer” is likely going to give exactly the excuse you just did…”Oh, it’s because they were accessing a different part of their brain”. But there’s NO WAY TO PROVE what part of the brain was actually being used at the time, it is ALL speculation.
With my experiment, we can see directly if eye movement in a certain direction is correlated with brain activity in certain regions. Thus, even if someone is accessing a “constructed” image, the eyes may not move in the direction anticipated…but we CAN determine whether every time that particular part of the brain is used, the eyes likewise move in a certain direction.
For me, the results would be readily interpreted, as follows:
If we find that we can map brain activity in certain areas to eye movement in certain directions, on a fairly reliable/predictable basis, then we have at least the foundation for validating NLP claims, and can do further study.
If, on the other hand, we find that there is no real correlation, and that the eyes move in different directions when the same part of the brain is being used, then that would be a very strong indicator that NLP theory has no real basis in fact at all.
In regard to the results on spelling ability, I personally find it VERY suspicious that Bolstad claims looking down actually caused students to FORGET how to spell words. I’m a teacher, and have done a fair bit of study about knowledge acquisition, and have NEVER seen an instance where students KNEW how to spell words and then, after a period of study, IMMEDIATELY FORGOT how to spell words that they’d previously known. Yet that is what Bolstad’s study claims…that they actually FORGOT how to spell 15% of the words they’d known previously, after they’d actually been STUDYING and refreshing their memories about how to spell those very words!
I’m sorry, but that seems to me MUCH more like someone seeking to deliberately cook the results in order to bolster their own claims…and for me to accept such a very counter-intuitive claim, I’d need to see far greater evidence, confirmed by people who did NOT have a direct stake in those claims.
Andy…to add to my comments about the studies about eye movement, one of the obvious problems is in interpretation. Judging what direction the eyes went will inevitably be subjective…what if the eyes move only a little, does that count? What if they start in one direction, then move in another?
If the person doing the evaluation is themselves an NLP practitioner, and knows what questions were asked (and therefore what reactions to anticipate), it is almost INEVITABLE that their ‘interpretations’ will be biased. If they expect the eyes to move up and to the left, and then they make a small, inadvertent movement in that direction, they’ll count it as a positive; or even if the eyes move down, and then move up, they’re still likely to count it as a positive.
The only way to ensure an honest evaluation is that the eye motions must be evaluated WITHOUT ANY IDEA as to what question was asked, or what response was anticipated. FIRST have the evaluator make a definitive judgement, THEN see how well those evaluations match anticipated results.
Adding the brain measurements brings in an additional level of legitimacy, in that we are not longer guessing or assuming what part of the brain is being ‘accessed’…we can see, in concrete terms, EXACTLY what part of the brain is being used.
The studies I’ve seen thus far suffer from both of these defects…the fact that the people evaluating the results know what results they expect AS they are interpreting them…AND any statements as to what part of the brain is being used is PURELY speculative, with no demonstrable basis in fact whatsoever.
One more thing, again in regard to quoting people here…how about this, I will take this a step further, to ensure that nobody is depicted unfairly.
IF I choose to use your comments in my book, I will send you the related excerpt, ALONG WITH MY OWN COMMENTS, and give you the chance to verify that I have fairly and accurately represented your statements. If I have done so inaccurately, you may correct me, and I will make the necessary changes.
HOWEVER…if my quotes are accurate, but you feel that they present you in a bad light…too freakin’ bad. You’ve given permission for me to use them (this obviously refers only to those who’ve stated explicitly that I have their permission), you don’t get to take that back because you retroactively realize that it’s a bad argument. I WILL give you the chance that if you think you have a BETTER argument, I can consider changing it.
My position, ultimately, is thus: that there is no need whatsoever to misrepresent or misquote the people involved, because their own comments and arguments, presented accurately and fairly, are more than adequate to demonstrate the validity of my own arguments. If I need to misquote or misrepresent others, it indicates that my OWN case lacks merit, and significantly weakens my position.
I don’t think I can be any more fair than that.
Well, as they say at the end of most South Park episodes, “I think we’ve all learned something today” 😉
To Andy Smith, and others:
First, my thanks for allowing me to come here, and for taking the time to respond to my questions/challenges. I know that it isn’t easy when someone comes into a community and starts questioning what your say (in fact, I’ve been summarily banned from two other NLP discussion boards for having the audacity to ask the same questions I asked here).
Some of you have responded by pointing me towards informative resources, and explaining your own positions (and where I may have some misinformation about NLP); others (looking at Andy B.) have responded with greater hostility — that’s not intended entirely as a criticism, as I came in here with an aggressive manner that was INTENDED to provoke, since I’ve found that’s often the best way to get to the heart of the discussion.
I would like now to summarize my conclusions, based on these exchanges. I will first summarize what others have said, to ensure that I am not misrepresenting what you’ve said; then I will give my own conclusions, based on those summaries. I don’t expect that everyone will agree with my CONCLUSIONS, and that’s fine…my goal is to represent YOUR arguments and beliefs accurately, present my perspective on that, and then leave it to others to determine if they agree with my conclusions, or with yours.
1) There seems to be pretty much universal consensus, at least among those here, that it is pretty much impossible for the layman to determine what is “real NLP”, and what is not. So far as I can see, nobody has given any kind of standardized, objective criteria that could be used, and in fact several people have overtly stated that only an “NLP expert” can distinguish between what is legitimate NLP, and what is not. If I am wrong about this, please DO provide me with information as to how the average layman could make such a distinction…keeping in mind that it should be a standard that at least a decent number of other NLP “experts” would also agree is valid.
Lacking that, my first conclusion is that the question of whether NLP is valid or not is entirely moot, since there is no way for a person interested in NLP to determine which claims are valid, and which claims are nonsense. This conclusion is bolstered by the conclusion, plainly stated in this discussion, that ONLY an “NLP expert” is able to determine what is “real NLP”, and what is not.
Which brings me to my second conclusion: the designation of “NLP expert” (or whatever other term you may wish to use) is worse than meaningless. Since apparently ANYONE can claim to be an expert, and there is no objective criteria to determine which ones are legitimate, and which ones are not, it leaves the field wide open for exploitation and abuse. Again, even if there ARE some legitimate claims within the field of NLP, there is NO WAY for the objective observer to differentiate those legitimate claims from the illegitimate ones.
And a comment — it seems rather pointless to me for you guys to complain about people saying that “lying eyes” is a part of NLP, if by your OWN admission there are A) people making that specific claim in the name of NLP, and B) NO WAY FOR OTHERS TO DETERMINE WHETHER IT IS A LEGITIMATE NLP CLAIM OR NOT. It seems to me that any SINCERE effort to inform people about what is “real NLP” and what is not would INESCAPABLY involve developing an objective standard by which such claims could be judged. Lacking such, it is YOUR OWN FAULTS if NLP gets mischaracterized by others…since it is YOU who’ve left it as a muddy quagmire in the first place.
2) There is SIGNIFICANT disagreement and lack of consensus, even within this small community, over the question of whether NLP makes claims that can be scientifically verified, or whether it is entirely beyond the realm of science to measure.
On the one side, we have Andy S. stating not only that NLP makes testable claims, but that some scientific research has already been done that, at least in his opinion, verifies some NLP claims. On the other hand, we have Andy B. claiming that not only is NLP not scientific, but that suggesting it SHOULD be tested is wrong. To paraphrase from his arguments, “It doesn’t matter if it is TRUE, it matters only if it WORKS”.
To which my response is the question, “Does it not matter if it is TRUE that it WORKS?” But more on that in a minute.
First, to address Andy S. He DID present me with some research that has been done. However, there are some major warning flags to me with this research:
A) ALL of the research in question was done by people who BENEFIT FINANCIALLY FROM PROVING THAT NLP WORKS…and who, if they proved NLP didn’t work, would actually LOSE a significant portion of their income. Just look at all the “scientific studies” done by cigarette companies, proving that cigarettes were not dangerous, to see why such studies are questionable at best. This does not, in and of itself, prove that their results are not valid; but it DOES demand that those results be tested and verified by others who do NOT have such a direct personal and financial stake in the results of those experiments. And so far as I can see, no such verification has been offered.
B) None of the studies come even close to proper double-blinded studies. Interpretation and correlation of the results are done by someone who has a direct, personal stake in ‘proving’ that his claims are true, and conclusions are likewise made by that same person. In one case, some of those claims seem to be VERY highly suspicious, such as the claim that a group who studied for a spelling test actually FORGOT 15% of the words they had previously known how to spell, AFTER actually studying those words further…simply because of the direction they were told to direct their eyes. I MIGHT be open to a claim that something like this impeded acquisition of NEW information…but a claim that it actually made them FORGET? I’m sorry, but barring independent confirmation of those results, using proper double-blinding, I’m gonna’ remain VERY skeptical.
I’ve already suggested a format for a PROPER double blind study, and am going to expand on that in a later post; but now I wish to address Andy B’s arguments.
The whole “It doesn’t matter if it is TRUE, it only matters if it WORKS” thing is one of the worst bits of meaningless psychobabble that I’ve encountered in my discussions on numerous topics — homeopathy, TCM, psychic powers, etc. Because, as I mentioned above, it is STILL essential to determine if it is TRUE that it WORKS!! If it is NOT TRUE that it works…then it is nothing but a fabric of lies and deceit. And people who use arguments like this make me EXTREMELY suspicious.
The fact that these arguments were made not JUST by Andy B., but are apparently the arguments advanced by the FOUNDERS of NLP, creates a great deal MORE suspicion in my mind about the veracity of NLP claims. We are now talking about people who, by their own admission, DON’T CARE IF THEIR CLAIMS ARE TRUE. Which means, by default, that they are implicitly admitting that it is FULLY POSSIBLE that their claims are NOT TRUE.
It seems incredibly ironic to me that others, in defending NLP claims as being true, are apparently doing so in direct contradiction of the statements of the very people who originated NLP.
And the whole “it’s valid if it works” thing is nonsense, unless one has a valid criteria for determining IF IT ACTUALLY WORKS. And in that regard, neither anecdote nor personal experience are valid measurements of whether it works or not. In my example above of TCM, I can show you literally tens of thousands of people who not only believe that TCM is a valid cure for cancer, but who will cite numerous anecdotes, and cite personal experience, to validate their belief — and yet one simple PROPERLY CONDUCTED study demonstrated that it was complete bunk…in fact, it demonstrated it so convincingly that even some of those who had previously believed TCM could cure cancer changed their minds.
If you’re going to claim that “NLP is valid because it works”, then PROVE THAT IT WORKS. Failing that, it’s just another load of gobbledygook that we can pile on the trash heap with homeopathy and psychic healing.
My conclusion: I still think that it is entirely possible that there ARE some valid claims within NLP (and I’m equally convinced that some NLP claims are complete bunk). But the complete lack of ANY objective study or measurement makes determining which are valid, and which are not, fundamentally impossible; and therefore, ANY such claims are meaningless, barring the introduction of further evidence to demonstrate either the truth or the falsity of a particular NLP claim.
TO CLOSE: If anyone feels that I have presented your arguments, beliefs, or ideas unfairly, please let me know. Obviously, since not even all of YOU agree about these things, it is impossible that any statement I make will represent what ALL NLP practitioners think; but I believe that the above summaries represent at least a general consensus.
John, if I can just question one bit of your comment above (it’s quite a crucial bit):
“ALL of the research in question was done by people who BENEFIT FINANCIALLY FROM PROVING THAT NLP WORKS…and who, if they proved NLP didn’t work, would actually LOSE a significant portion of their income.” (your capitals)
If you’re referring to the as yet unpublished article I sent you, you’re saying that the researchers:
Dr Susan Nate
Dr F Loiselle at the University of Moncton
are all NLP practitioners who stand to gain financially by proving that NLP works. How did you come by this information? I must admit I haven’t investigated their backgrounds closely (it’s a question of time, I’ve got a living to earn) but is this claim true?
“I came in here with an aggressive manner that was INTENDED to provoke, since I’ve found that’s often the best way to get to the heart of the discussion.”
It’s definitely a good way to get people to respond in a way that confirms your prejudices, and possible side effects include making people think you’re a dick (which would be an unfair conclusion, but coming in aggressively increases its likelihood).
Wouldn’t a more open or respectful attitude increase the likelihood of genuine conversation where all participants might learn something new, rather than an adversarial debate in the hope of convincing the 5 or 6 (I’m guessing) uncommitted readers of these comments?
This would also apply as a general principle to members of the NLP community in dialogue with self-styled skeptics. On my practitioner course I was told that when attempting to persuade people, we should start from their map of the world. Seems like a good idea to me – it’s a rare person whose mind is so closed that there isn’t some wriggle room that we can use to encourage the development of their ‘map’ in more useful directions.
And now, for anyone that may be interested to pursue actually verifying NLP claims about eye movement, my suggestions for an entirely feasible, proper study.
First, to Andy S., who said that part of the problem was lack of funds. Sorry, nope, I don’t buy it. Put together a proper study, then approach universities that have Ph.D. departments in neurology, behavioral sciences, organic psychology, etc. It will NOT be that difficult to find researchers (particularly Ph.D. candidates looking to make a name for themselves) who’d be willing to undertake a study of this nature. All costs would be covered by the university, and any positive results would be coming from a neutral source, not from someone with a vested interest in ‘proving’ that NLP works.
Now, to the study:
Step 1) Similar to what I said earlier, get a group of test subjects. I’d suggest three groups, to make the study really properly double-blinded. In one group, they are informed of NLP, and what responses are expected; in one group, they are informed about NLP, but the responses they are told to expect are DIFFERENT from those predicted by NLP; and in one group, they are given no information at all (the control group).
This structure helps determine if people are behaving in a certain way because it is innate behavior, or because they’ve been ‘programmed’ to behave in that way by creating unconscious expectations. If people in all three groups have the SAME results, it indicates that those results, whatever they are, are a result of innate behavior; if people in each group demonstrate DIFFERENT behaviors, it would indicate that it is because of expectations that have been imposed on them.
Step 2) Agree in advance on a slate of questions that will be asked of the participants. These questions can be supplied by NLP experts, in order to specifically test their claims about anticipated responses. All participants will be asked the same questions.
Step 3) Question each participant one at a time, first hooking them up to machines that are able to accurately identify activity in specific areas of the brain as they answer the questions. At the same time, have a video camera that tracks eye movement as they answer the questions.
Step 4) After all participants in all three groups have been questioned, divide the data into three separate groups: the first is the data about what areas of the brain were active; the second is the recordings of eye movements; and the third is the questions being asked.
Step 5) Have a group of neurologists look at the brain scans, and conclude which parts of the brain are most active when answering each question (but not knowing which question was asked).
Step 6) Have a group of NLP experts look at the recordings of the eye movements, and conclude which direction the eyes moved when answering each question (again, not knowing which question was asked).
Step 7) Once all of this has been done, match the results together. We can now look at any individual and see A) what parts of his brain were active, B) what direction his eyes moved, and C) what question was asked that provoked those responses.
Drawing Conclusions: there are three primary categories of possible results from this, as follows:
1) It is found that NLP predictions about what direction the eyes would move according to what part of the brain is being accessed are, in fact, accurate. This would be a great validation of NLP theory.
2) It is found that there IS a definite correlation between eye movement and particular areas of the brain being active…but that correlation does not fit with NLP theory. This, overall, would still be a positive result for NLP, as it would indicate that the general THEORY is valid, but that specific ASPECTS of that theory need to be studied further, and made more accurate.
3)It is found that there is little or no correlation between eye movement and particular areas of the brain being active…in which case, NLP claims at least in THIS regard are pretty much effectively proven to be wrong (although there will be some, like Andy B., who I’m sure would continue to insist that even such conclusive evidence meant nothing).
Now, here’s the thing.
When people are making LEGITIMATE claims, with the sincere desire to INCREASE understanding of the human mind and how it works, they WELCOME study and examination of those claims. In the outcomes I’ve listed above, TWO OUT OF THREE OUTCOMES are positive for NLP in general (either confirming they are right, or giving them data to refine their theories and make them more accurate)…and all THREE are positive outcomes for HUMANITY, as they reveal another ‘truth’ about our minds, and how they work (whether it be a positive or a negative truth).
It is only hucksters, con-men, and scam artists who resist such efforts. It is only those who LACK the confidence in their beliefs who are afraid to have those beliefs challenged or tested. That’s why fundamentalist Christians prefer to try to STOP teaching evolution, than examine the claims of evolution honestly…because they lack the confidence that if their children were honestly presented with all the evidence, their children would still choose the fairy tale of Creationism.
Sadly, while SOME within the NLP sphere (thanks again, Andy S.) seem to be open to this, the larger majority seem to manifest the same attitude of resisting or rejecting any attempt to evaluate or test the claims of NLP in an objective manner.
John, re the experiment design: couldn’t you just dispense with the questions altogether (since they have unpredictable results, as I mentioned in a previous comment) and just video people having a conversation while they are hooked up to a brain scanner? Then you could see what correlation there is between eye movements and particular brain areas lighting up.
Just a couple of first run searches comes up with lie detection claims relating to eye movements:
NLP at Work: The Difference That Makes the Difference in Business
Tricky Business: Proven Mind Tricks for Corporate Sales
They are both claims coming from the field of neuro-linguistic programming.
Its true that the claims coming from NLPers in general are vague. But the message they give out is that amazing stuff can happen if you just follow their particular magic. Sorry, but when those claims are teased out and clarified, and when they turn out to be wrong, I think there should be some sort of humility, admission of the facts, and some sort of effort towards correction.
The general eye movement claims of neuro-linguistic programming have been measured and found to be incorrect for over two decades. But all that can be seen in the neuro-linguistic programming bookshelves are books full of eye movement diagrams and claims (vague and otherwise) that amazing neuro-linguistic programming can happen when you follow the method.
The conclusion that (I suspect) most rational people would make from all this is that neuro-linguistic programming is just as pseudo-scientific as it sounds.
‘Tricky Business’ would fall into the category of ‘some guy has done an NLP course and is claiming lie detection off his own bat’ – just because it mentions NLP within it doesn’t mean it’s a book that most people in the NLP community would endorse. I don’t think we have anything to apologise for there, any more than physicists need to apologise for ‘The Secret’ claiming that ‘Quantum Physics’ plays a role in ‘The Law of Attraction’.
‘NLP at Work’ is a different case – it’s written by Sue Knight, a widely respected NLP trainer within the mainstream of NLP (though I do see that she repeats that 7%-38%-55% myth about communication – oh dear).
I don’t have a copy of that book these days. A quick ‘Google Books’ search on ‘eye movements’, ‘lie’ and ‘lying’ didn’t turn up any such claims. Do you have a page number, Warren? Or does who has a copy verify if Warren’s claim is true? I don’t know if Google Books gives access to the entire book or not.
Sure, I would see no problem with that whatsoever…the specific nature of the interaction with the subjects could take a variety of forms, so long as whatever form is chosen is used consistently with each group, and results are evaluated in the manner I listed above.
While I’m obviously skeptical of NLP claims, I DO like to have factual confirmation of competing claims; you state that, “The general eye movement claims of neuro-linguistic programming have been measured and found to be incorrect for over two decades.”
Could you please provide links or references for such studies, so that I can examine that, also?
@ Andy S.
“‘Tricky Business’ would fall into the category of ‘some guy has done an NLP course and is claiming lie detection off his own bat’ – just because it mentions NLP within it doesn’t mean it’s a book that most people in the NLP community would endorse. I don’t think we have anything to apologise for there, any more than physicists need to apologise for ‘The Secret’ claiming that ‘Quantum Physics’ plays a role in ‘The Law of Attraction’.”
Now ya’ see, here’s my problem. When we talk about “Quantum Physics” and “The Law of Attraction”, quantum physics makes SPECIFIC, TESTABLE CLAIMS…and anyone seeking to demonstrate that “The Law of Attraction” is an execrable pile of horse manure that has as much to do with quantum physics as George W. Bush has to do with intelligence, is to compare the SPECIFIC, TESTABLE claims of quantum physics with the claims of The Secret.
But with NLP, as you’ve stated, there is no such standard. NLP, at least at present, falls pretty much in the same category as The Secret, BECAUSE of the fact it lacks any actual verification of it’s claims (and even has some proponents claiming that testing or verification is impossible).
Again…IF I AM WRONG IN THIS ASSESSMENT, then point me to where NLP can provide similar SPECIFIC, TESTABLE claims, that I can then use as a point of comparison or validation when evaluating the claims of others in regard to NLP.
These are taken from the current Wikipedia NLP article. They appear to be rigorous:
Witkowski (2010). “Thirty-Five Years of Research on Neuro-Linguistic Programming. NLP Research Data Base. State of the Art or Pseudoscientific Decoration?”. Polish Psychological Bulletin 41 (2): 58–66.
Sharpley C.F. (1987). “Research Findings on Neuro-linguistic Programming: Non supportive Data or an Untestable Theory”. Journal of Counseling Psychology 34 (1): 103–107, 105
There are no equivalent reviews that end in a positive note.
Its on page 49
Religious thinking often involves emphasizing those parts of the bible that appeal, whilst avoiding that which does not give the faith a good name. If you want to avoid the label of cult or religion, I would advise that you avoid the “map is not the territory” view, and work with the trite but relevant “the communication is the result you get”.
The communication given out is that the eye movement lie detection falsehood originated in a field called neuro-linguistic programming. Whether purposefully or not, that falsehood was rather left to grow and fester.
The other communication (result) is that neuro-linguistic programmers have a very hard time being straight about their subject.
It doesn’t have to be that way! Or does it?
I’m going to close comments on here soon, just because (a) it’s taking a lot of time, (b) it seems that the way WordPress works is that if you approve one comment from someone, it means that all subsequent comments are approved automatically
(c) I think everyone’s made pretty much all the points they are going to make
I’m a little disappointed that no-one from an NLP ‘official body’ such as SNLP, INLPTA, ANLP or indeed (especially) the research initiatives has come in on this debate, given that it’s part of their job description to explain NLP to the wider world.
Wow…generally, I tend to avoid Wikipedia in looking at topics like this, because it can so easily be controlled by people with special interests in the topic being discussed; I had actually assumed that the Wikipedia article about NLP would be dominated by pro-NLP advocates, and present an overly-biased perspective towards the positive side.
The Wikipedia article is, in fact, quite damning (and shame on me for NOT doing more research in this regard), with a pretty much universal consensus that NLP claims regarding eye movements have no merit whatsoever. Far from the claim that “this hasn’t been studied”, it has apparently been studied in quite some detail…with results on EVERY OCCASION that indicated NLP claims were not true.
It seems that when it comes to discussing “scientific study of NLP”, we should ONLY include those studies that are done by people who have a vested interest in proving that it is true…and IGNORE the much larger body of research that indicates it is untrue?
It’s gonna’ take me some time to wade through all that stuff, but quite fascinating…thanks!
@ Andy S.
“I’m a little disappointed that no-one from an NLP ‘official body’ such as SNLP, INLPTA, ANLP or indeed (especially) the research initiatives has come in on this debate, given that it’s part of their job description to explain NLP to the wider world.”
I, for one, would certainly welcome their involvement and comments!
“I’m going to close comments on here soon, just because (a) it’s taking a lot of time, (b) it seems that the way WordPress works is that if you approve one comment from someone, it means that all subsequent comments are approved automatically (c) I think everyone’s made pretty much all the points they are going to make”
Well, personally, I’d ask that you not do that. Even if you want to leave the conversation, others may still be interested to contribute.
Don’t care – people will still be posting stuff on my blog, so it reflects on my google search results and my reputation. My blog, my rules.
Having said that, (rather amazingly) there doesn’t seem to be a way in WordPress to turn off new comments while allowing existing ones to remain, so I’m going to have to ask you all to respect my decision.
If you don’t, I’ll just have to turn off the comments option which will make everything you’ve written so far disappear.
Warren, if it’s p49 of the third edition (which is about eye movements), lying isn’t mentioned or even implied on that page. Care to retract that specific claim?
Re the studies by Witkowski and Sharpley that you mention to support your case – the question of their rigour has already been dealt with in Andy Bradbury’s series of articles that I already linked to in my original article.
Right – comments closed. I don’t have the entire rest of my life to devote to this debate!
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