Related Articles & Notes
SCIENTIFIC ASSESSMENT OF NLP
Author: Dylan Morgan
am sure that we have all read and learned
something about the theory and techniques
of Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP). But
it is possible that some of us have not
had the opportunity to study it in enough
detail to determine the validity of the
ideas which are involved in it.
few years ago Dr. Heap, Principal Clinical
Psychologist for Sheffield Health Authority
and lecturer at Sheffield University, did
a very careful and thorough study of all
the research that has been done into certain
claims of NLP, citing 70 papers in all.
he was looking into the idea of the Primary Representational
System (PRS), which is supposed by NLP to be a
very important concept. It is claimed that people
tend to think in a specific mode: visual, auditory,
kinaesthetic, olfactory or gustatory, of which
the first three are the most common. NLP claims
that it is possible to determine the PRS of a
person by noticing certain words that she or he
uses which will reveal the mode. It is also claimed
that the direction of eye movement is an indicator
of the PRS.
reason why it is said to be important for the
therapist to determine the PRS of a client is
that it is supposed greatly to enhance rapport
if one then matches the clients PRS.
three assertions are capable of being put to controlled
tests to determine how far they are true. Dr.
Heap, who is also Secretary of the British Society
of Experimental and Clinical Hypnosis, ploughed
through the literature to summarise the results
of many workers and found the following.
the results have been mixed, the hypothesis that
a person has a PRS which is observed in the choice
of words has been found not to hold by the great
majority of researchers. The hypothesis that a
person has a PRS which can be determined by the
direction of eye movements found even less support.
third hypothesis which was looked at is the practical
one of whether or not we can improve our relationship
with a client by matching the presumed PRS. Again
the answer is a resounding NO. There is no evidence
that focusing on the presumed modality adds anything
to the widely recognised finding that matching
general characteristics of verbal and nonverbal
communication may facilitate rapport. It is interesting
that one researcher, Cody, found that therapists
matching their clients' language were rated as
less trustworthy and less effective!
Heap comes to the following conclusion:
present author is satisfied that the assertions
of NLP writers concerning the representational
systems have been objectively and fairly investigated
and found to be lacking. These assertions are
stated in unequivocal terms by the originators
of NLP and it is clear from their writings that
phenomena such as representational systems, predicate
preferences and eye-movement patterns are claimed
to be potent psychological processes, easily and
convincingly demonstrable on training courses
by tutors and trainees following simple instructions,
and, indeed, in interactions in everyday life.
Therefore, in view of the absence of any objective
evidence provided by the original proponents of
the PRS hypothesis, and the failure of subsequent
empirical investigations to adequately support
it, it may well be appropriate now to conclude
that there is not, and never has been, any substance
to the conjecture that people represent their
world internally in a preferred mode which may
be inferred from their choice of predicates and
from their eye movements.
'These conclusions, and the failure of investigators
to convincingly demonstrate the alleged benefits
of predicate matching, seriously question the
role of such a procedure in counselling."
And he ends:
verdict on NLP is .... an interim one. Einsprech
and Forman are probably correct in insisting that
the effectiveness of NLP therapy undertaken in
authentic clinical contexts of trained practitioners
has not yet been properly investigated. If it
turns out to be the case that these therapeutic
procedures are indeed as rapid and powerful as
is claimed, no one will rejoice more than the
present author. If however these claims fare no
better than the ones already investigated then
the final verdict on NLP will be a harsh one indeed."
If you would like to read the article in more
detail, or follow up the references cited, you
will find it in the volume Hypnosis: current clinical.
experimental and forensic practices, edited by
Michael Heap and published by Croom Helm in 1988.
It contains many other articles of great interest
by reputable workers.
know that some members of the NCP are enthusiastic
users of NLP techniques and I would be interested
to know their response to this article. On the
other hand if you are a member who has tried to
use the indirect ways of deducing a person's PRS
andfailed, or have tried to pace the presumed
PRS and not gained noticeably greater rapport
than usual, then you may find comfort in the thought
that the fault may not lie in you.
my own experience a simple question such as, "When
you say that do you mean that your actually picture
.... to yourself?" is answered happily and
openly by people, so that there is no need for
devious, indirect or doubtful ways of finding
out in detail how their minds are working.