NLP: Characteristics of Primary Representation Systems

kinaesthetic sensory predicates
some kinaesthetic sensory predicates

A quick reference for NLP students: recognising the characteristics of primary representation systems, which can also give you some ideas about what each rep system is good for.

This article follows on from ‘A Quick Introduction to Representational Systems‘ and ‘Do you have a preferred representational system?‘, so read those first if you’re not familiar with the concept of rep systems.

Please remember this is not about putting people into boxes and saying “This person is a Visual” or “I’m an Auditory” – we use all of our rep systems pretty much all the time. Sometimes we are using one modality more than the others, and some (not all) people have a strong preference for using one or two of them more than the others.

People may move into using more of a given rep system when it’s appropriate to the task they’re doing. For example, when visiting an art gallery, most people will be using the visual modality more than the auditory (and if they don’t, they will not get as much from the experience).

So you can take this article as a quick and dirty guide to what’s happening when a person is operating primarily in a particular modality.


  • Memorise by seeing pictures
  • Have trouble remembering verbal instructions
  • Tend to stand up straight, breathe from the top of the chest
  • Prefer to stand back so they can see you
  • Interested in whether things ‘look good’
  • Tend to move, think and talk faster

Usually they will be nicely dressed and well groomed, and their desk will be tidy – they don’t like clutter.

Auditory (‘hearing’ in everyday English)

Easily distracted by noise – I used to work in an office with designers, and we had a constant battle over the radio. They kept turning it up, I kept turning it down because it interfered with the auditory processing I was doing to get my report to sound right.

  • Learn by listening
  • Can repeat things back to you easily
  • Breathe from middle of chest
  • Tone of voice very important
  • Interested in whether things ‘sound right’
  • Like to be close enough to hear you

Kinaesthetic (‘Feeling’ and/or ‘touch’ and/or ’emotions’ in everyday ‘English’)

  • Often talk and breathe slowly
  • Respond to physical rewards and touch
  • Memorise by doing or walking through things
  • Breathe from abdomen
  • Interested in whether things ‘feel right’
  • Like to be close enough to touch you

They will dress for comfort rather than looks. They will probably arrange their office so that everything is in easy reach, even if it looks untidy – they won’t even be aware of that unless it’s pointed out to them.

Auditory Digital (‘Internal dialogue’ or ‘logical thought’ in everyday English)

  • A lot of internal dialogue
  • Memorise by steps, procedures, sequences
  • Interested in whether something ‘makes sense’
  • Can exhibit characteristics of other systems
  • Will often be leaning back (dissociated)

For an extreme example of someone with a strong ‘Auditory Digital’ preference from popular culture, look no further than Dr Sheldon Cooper in The Big Bang Theory.

In the next article, we’ll find out how to recognise the representation system someone is primarily operating in (at that time) from the words they use.

© 2013 – 2019, Andy Smith. All rights reserved.

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