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NLP Eye Accessing, The Pseudo-Science Stuff.. with the Olympics thrown in.

July 18, 2012

I’m somewhat wearily engaging in the current  Richard Wiseman NLP Eye Cues  research debate.

Ridiculous really, as his position that he has ‘debunked’ a major claim of NLP is based on zero reality. In fact his research on lying is, somewhat ironically , itself based on a lie!

No-one of any credibility in the field makes this claim… terrifically good blogs from Andy Smith and Reg Connolly.

Since then a bit of same-old, same-old … is NLP a science or a scam? Shock horror etc.

Here’s  one of my contributions….

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 things. 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


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  1. I think we need to put ourselves in the shoes of skeptics and self-styled ‘critical thinkers’ a bit more if we hope to stand any chance of changing their minds. From their point of view, the pseudo-science stuff is not a non-argument – they would need evidence, tons of it, to get them to change their minds. And they’re certainly not going to get it from their own observation or subjective experience.

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  3. Hi Andy thanks..

    My point was really to establish the idea that all/ most of (?) the component parts of NLP are completely scientifically valid in their own right. This is something we don’t emphasise enough in this never-ending debate.

    It helps to denominalise “NLP” and break ‘it’ into it’s constituent elements, none of which are particularly controversial anymore.

    Lakoff’s work, Goleman’s, Kahneman’s etc – all these perfectly acceptable pieces of research actually validate key aspects of NLP.

    There’s probably never going to be enough evidence in the world to convince the self styled ‘critical thinkers’ you mention that, what they have in their heads as ‘NLP’, works.

    Because the way they think about NLP – i.e. they clearly don’t understand what NLP is – can only be ‘proved’ by them to be some kind of scam. It’s a completely self -fulfilling and closed project for them.

    I’m attempting to move the argument onto shared terms of reference and then I’m happy to show how all of it works together .. the principles, tools and skill set to help someone create a change in their thinking etc .

    In doing this I am actually making an attempt to stand in the shoes with sceptics and others – to find and agree some basics which have a solid and non-controversial research base… and to take the ‘debate’ forward from there.

  4. If only the ‘critical thinkers’ did more critical thinking! Many who claim Critical Thinking (CT) skills tend to manifest a fixed, inflexible position that their model of the world is the ‘right’ one and no NEW evidence will convince them once their mind is made up; guided by their often school test tube level knowledge of how they interpret ‘Science’ and therefore their map (and beliefs) seems (to us) impoverished.

    Generally, the main belief pattern as far as they are concerned (in my experience) is governed by black and white thinking and Is-ing, say, e.g: “NLP is (a) Pseudo-Science”. This for them colours their perception of any technique or model within NLP. In essence, A high level big-chunk one-label-covers-all belief, which paradoxically, for many CT claimants, has no logical or evidential basis! And because its psuedo-science…. you can appreciate the circular logic which can bind them.

    So when one chunks down to a specific technique/strategy and discuss eye accessing cues or, say, the LAB profile and point to the academic references at the back of the book, the conversation may quickly terminate and/or references discounted, for it threatens their certain model of the world, and importantly for them, their sense of self. Many ‘critical thinkers’ may claim scepticism; though that is usually clothed as a polemic. Since if they were genuinely sceptical, they might open to doubt (even temporarily) their own fixed position; as we might call it; ‘apply to self.’ and test new knowledge and adjust the map of the territory accordingly (or not.)

    A strategy that might have use, could be an understanding of what is truly meant by ‘Critical Thinking’ (in its very simplest form, a chunk down to specifics in specific circumstances) and the education of the basis of broad alternatives in science and measurement. (Epsitemology etc.)

    Thankfully there appear to be many Graduates, Masters and Doctors who understand the range of research approaches and embrace NLP for where and ‘what’ it ‘is’.

    It is possible to ‘critically think’ and model with NLP. Now that’s a belief that serves me well anyway.

    • Thanks Steve .. I think you’re probably right about the critical thinkers! have you read ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’? It’s all about bias and resolving cognitive dissonance and how hard it is not to do for everyone. He even describes his own failed experiments and yet is aware he still thinks they should work! – unusually rigorous and self aware.

      The ‘open to doubt’ mode is so essential for all of us. As I say above I’m interested in writing something called ‘The 7 core approaches/ frames/ tools (?) of NLP which any reasonable and relatively sane person would agree are valid and therefore no ‘debunking’ required.’ A snappy little title isn’t it?!!

      Thanks for contributing…

      • Apologies for the delay; August was a bit of a blur!

        I know of Kahneman through some work on Behavioural Economics – and thanks for the reference to that particular book, I’ll check it out. For a quick list of cognitive biases Wiki is actually quite good (where sourced):

        Nice title for the book, are you sure that’s long enough?!

  5. Typo alert! I transpose letters sometimes. It’s Epistemology. of course.

  6. One could say that Richard Wiseman has just proved a fundamental tenet of NLP: The principal of generalisation…

  7. David Almer permalink

    Its not really a matter of whether NLP includes goal setting, motivation and whatnot. Many subjects include those things (including other pseudosciences). The criticism is really in the name: Neuro-linguistic programming. And its also in the fact that it has been tested and the overall picture is failure. Sorry!

    I still like some of the stuff I learned from NLP, but I have to say I no longer broadcast that I am an NLPer. I am getting to the point where I may even move on completely from NLP. Its getting a bit embarrassing. I don’t want to be labeled as a champion or exemplar of pseudoscience:

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment David, I appreciate it.

      Well, I think I can only really refer back to my article, the main point of which is that if most of the constituent aspects of NLP are widely accepted as credible and useful then it doesn’t really make sense to frame NLP as some kind of weird, aberrant nonsense!

      90%+ of the models in NLP are actually pretty mainstream and uncontroversial.

      What I believe sets NLP apart from the other approaches is a) the subtle combination and interplay among the different models, b) the artful, interpersonal skills-set built on EQ which supports the use of the techniques and c) the modelling of ‘success factors’ of effective performance

      The name can be off-putting I agree although there was a field of ‘neuro-linguistics’ which predated NLP.

      To my knowledge over the last 40 (?) years NLP has not been tested and failed, as you say. The latest so-called research has been pretty much demolished (links in article) and there are now, here and in the states, various NLP research projects running to come up with a better methodology.

      I’m not sure there is even an agreed definition of what ‘NLP’ is. I don’t know what exactly people are attempting to ‘debunk’, other than their own misconceptions.

      I feel for you on the being identified with a ‘pseudo-science’ – I guess that it what is annoying me too and why I wrote what I did.

      I’m glad you still find your NLP useful even if it is the field that dare-not-speak-it’s-name! I sometimes don’t mention it either because of the mixed reputation that it has. I remember John Grinder saying “Even to say you do NLP is to be out of rapport”- so there’s that too.

      All I can say is that an NLP which is more deeply based in embodied skills and principles of learning, communication and change, rather than just the techniques, tends to be more acceptable and effective.

      Thanks again for your contribution… if you want, come and look us up sometime if you are in London and be my guest at a Practice Group.

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  1. Interesting blog on eye accessing cues « Deborahburdett's Blog

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