Does NLP work? Science vs NLP


Ok, now before I get all ranted up it's probably clear that my answer is going to be yes, NLP does work otherwise why have I wasted my time writing on PlanetNLP? But let's start by taking a step back because it's really a somewhat stupid question.

NLP is not a single thing and cannot be treated as one.

It's like asking "Does fishing work?"

As a question, it really doesn't make sense does it?

Time and time again we see NLP being proved to not work because someone (usually a scientist who has set out to prove NLP doesn't work) has done a single experiment without reference to a single NLP practitioner or trainer and has got negative results and that's the end of it - NLP doesn't work.

Time for a Rant

Let's take a fun example that I get a bit heated up about. Richard Wiseman and his colleagues just up the road from me at Hatfield University have recently published a paper that shows that the NLP concept of using eye accessing to predict lying doesn't work.

Now I'm not going to disagree with their findings, I'm sure that the experiments showed exactly those results. Unfortunately, before they pat themselves on the back too hard for proving all NLP practitioners are charlatans, I'd like to raise a couple of points.

Firstly there is nowhere in the standard NLP texts where it is stated that eye accessing can reliably show whether someone is lying or not. Eye accessing is used to differentiate between recalled and constructed memories. The phrase 'straw man' springs to mind.

The paper does refer to books written by Richard Bandler and John Grinder, which would be the most relevant reference quoted in the paper, but these books do not actually contain the text necessary to support Richard's claims. Naughty Naughty. See the Pegasus Blog for details on this glaring omission.

On the other hand, the paper does contain three seemingly valid references. But these are within books written by people who I've never heard of, and are not recognized as any form of NLP authority. By this logic I can discredit anyone simply by writing my own book on their subject and then extrapolating something that doesn't work. In our fishing analogy I could write a book stating that I can catch trout using a rod and line and jam. As soon as a scientist tests my theory and shows that jam really isn't good bait (well for trout anyway) then fishing is proved to not work, and we can put all the people selling fishing rods out of business.

A more serious issue is the experiment itself. When an NLP practitioner asks someone a question then the person runs through whatever internal process they need to build a response. If I ask them to think of a grapefruit with rabbit ears then I believe they will construct that image on the fly - unless they have a very unusual home life. This test would give the same result as the lie that we're looking for in Richard's experiment. Unfortunately, in the experiment the candidate was told not only that they were going to lie but also what the lie was going to be BEFORE the question was asked.

The lie was constructed before the question was asked.

This is a really important point. The lie was constructed and then recalled later when asked. The NLP stipulation is that the eyes move differently depending upon whether something is constructed or remembered. In Richard's experiment we are making the measurement too late.

Now even the most wet behind the ears NLP practitioner could have told them that the experiment wasn't designed very well. Did they not think to involve anyone who knows something about what they were testing? Were they just lazy, or where the papers results already decided?

Call me cynical, but Richard Wiseman's book "Rip it Up" was published at the same time as the paper, and in this book Richard presents a radical new insight that turns conventional self-help on its head.

Conflict of Interest, anyone? Cynical Marketing? Or simply coincidence?

Anyway, you can make up your own mind about the research by reading the paper here.

There are also a couple of interesting articles on the subject online including Judith Lowe's Blog and the Pegasus Blog which goes into a lot of detail - great stuff.

It's a real pity than research into NLP is almost always done in this way. NLP has many sources and I don't read about scientists going hell for leather to discredit Milton Erickson or Gregory Bateson. It would be great to see some research done in a manner that actually tested the claims of the NLP co-founders.

Rant over

In defense of the scientific community there is a problem testing NLP. NLP is an interaction between a practitioner and a client. Ideally science would like to remove the practitioner from the equation to maintain the highest scientific integrity - fair enough. Unfortunately to be successful most NLP requires a minimum of two living human brains.

Get to the Point!

So back to the original question - does NLP work? Well, in my experience yes.

Eye accessing cues are incredibly easy to learn and test. Submodalities and related exercises such as the fast phobia cure can be tested in a matter of minutes, but rather than take my word for it experiment and find out for yourself!


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