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A critical assessment of NLP


This web page gives details of a report published in 1993
by Dylan Morgan casting some doubts on the validity of NLP - for those who are fans or critics of NLP methods in training and communications development.

12 Responses

  1. Missing the Point
    In reading the list below, it may be of interest to know that the author has long been waging a “one man war” against NLP on the grounds that it has never been proven in the laboratory.

    What a pity he, and the poster of the original item, didn’t read one of the listed sites a little more closely:

  2. Another Case of Foot in Mouth?
    Mr Platt appears to regard himself as something of an expert on NLP. Between March and early September he has posted a list of URLs to various pages on this site with a disparaging introduction such as:
    “Take a look at some of what these sites and articles say about NLP and the evidence (or the lack of it)regarding whether NLP works or not.”

    What Mr Platt DOESN’T tell us is that one of these sites is a swingeing criticism of NLP training – by someone who, by his own admission, has never been on a day’s NLP training in his life.

    The list also features an allegedly “scientific” study of eye accessing cues – but doesn’t tell us that the questions used were so ambiguous as to remove all possibility of getting a useful result.

    A little more puzzling is the fact that Mr Platt apparently doesn’t realise that, although the URLs are slightly different, the 4th and last entries both point to the same document.

    More recently Mr Platt has quoted a comment of my own regarding pseudo-scientific nonsense in the NLP Encyclopedia. Not surprisingly he misinterprets the intention, since I am not commenting on NLP at all, only on what I believe to be a misjudged attempt to make certain techniques seem “scientific”.

    But the real give away is the item at position 8 (on most versions of the list):

    The page this URL points to has just one mention of “NLP”, followed by a rather technical discussion of “Word Sense Disambiguation Applied to Single Domain-Free Collocations”.

    So, having PRESUMABLY read tis page before listing it, how come Mr Platt didn’t realise that:

    – Although this page mentions a “problem”, it is NOT “criticism” of anything. It is, in fact, the description of a project the author is planning
    – This page has nothing to do with neuro-linguistic programming – the “NLP” it refers to is “Natural Language Processing”.

    It seems that Mr Platt’s main yardstick for evaluating these websites is simply whether a site has something negative to say about NLP – regardless of whether the information is accurate, even if it’s the wrong NLP and even the only “negative” is in Mr Platt’s imagination.

  3. Pseudo-scientific nonsense?
    Here are two interesting quotes on NLP, the first by Paul Jupp himself: (

    ‘The SO-CALLED NLP encyclopaedia is available to view and/or buy at It is only fair to warn you, however, that whilst parts of it are excellent, other parts are nothing more than pseudo-scientific nonsense.’


    Dr Heap, Principal Clinical Psychologist for Sheffield Health Authority who has taken a particular interest in NLP and some of the assertions that have made about it. He has written 3 papers on the subject and published his research findings. He can find virtually no substantive evidence to support the claims made for NLP. Dr Heap writes:
    ‘The 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.’
    The reader I guess must decide for themselves who is correct I would only ask that decisions are based on facts rather than rhetoric.

  4. And they keep coming:

    Here is an interesting article detailing the questionable use of eye accessing cues in police interrogations. The lack of reliability of this approach is clearly disclosed and a range of other more practical and useful techniques discussed. If only this approach were adopted and used by other NLP practioners then there would be little to be concerned about, but it isn’t. Claims based on no evidence abound around NLP and when this fact is raised it can make people uncomfortable.

    Mr Jupp previously wrote:

    ‘More recently Mr Platt has quoted a comment of my own regarding pseudo-scientific nonsense in the NLP Encyclopaedia. Not surprisingly he misinterprets the intention, since I am not commenting on NLP at all, only on what I believe to be a misjudged attempt to make certain techniques seem “scientific”.’

    So it seems that despite emphatic and clear claims about what NLP can do, and how it works none of these things can apparently be assessed or verified with anything that has a rational scientific approach; instead the frame work for eye accessing cues, rep systems and predicates must rely on anecdotal uncorroborated claims.

    With apologies to Winston Churchill:

    Never in the field of human development has so much been claimed by so many based on so little.

  5. When do we get the WHOLE story?
    Mr Platt includes in his list of web pages (which, I assume we are meant to regard as authoritative) Michael Hall’s

    This is what Michael, who has a Ph.D in psychology, by the way, says about the tests Mr Platt puts so much faith in:

    “Yes, it’s really sad that some of the first research done was old quantitative statistical research and when they applied that methodology to eye accessing cues they determined that since it didn’t fit the statistics model, it didn’t work! I read that original research and it was about as lame … people with no understanding of the model, no skills in qualitative research methodology.”

    Perhaps Mr Platt would care to tell us what his own qualification(s) is/are in this field?

    By the way, Mr Platt’s latest recommended website

    is indeed worth visiting as it clearly explains how an experiment may APPEAR to disprove the eye accessing cues whilst actually demonstrating their validity.

  6. NLP – Evidence?
    Mr Jupp has a unique way of interpreting the web site:

    The author clearly states that eye accessing cues can relate to numerous modalities which it is not possible to reliably calibrate, any way the reader can visit it for themselves to see the truth of the matter.

    I have found a source of information detailing scientific research on NLP. The following German web site has a fascinating database that lists close to 180 references on academic and scientific research that has been conducted on NLP.

    A total of 177 research papers were referenced.
    26 research studies were written in a language other than English and I could not analyse them.

    58 research studies were inconclusive, irrelevant to this report or drew no formal conclusions
    The remaining studies often looked at more than one concept of NLP, indeed it would be virtually impossible not to, for example predicates and representational systems were often cited in the same paper, hence some of the studies may appear cited in more than one of the following breakdowns.

    35 research studies looked at the validity of eye accessing cues. Only 8 of these studies (23%) supported the use and legitimacy of eye accessing cues. The rest, 27 (77%) stated that eye accessing cues appeared to have no significant positive or negative impact when utilised in personal interactions.

    32 research studies looked at the validity of predicates. 21 of these studies (66%) found that the use of predicates had little to no influence in building or enhancing rapport. (An interesting observation about predicates however was that two of the studies demonstrated that there was a stronger correlation between personality type and predicates used than there was with any other factor they encountered.)

    36 research studies looked at the concept of representational systems. 29 of these studies (80%) found no bona fide evidence to support the use of representational systems and concluded that they did not appear to play a significant role in communications.

  7. The Experimental Method
    Since Mr Platt finds my interpretation of the Stever Robbins material incomprehensible here is an explanation:

    1. An experiment must have a clearly and rigidly defined “protocol” (set of instructions) on how to carry out the experiment so that other researchers can replicate the methodology as closely as possible

    2. Stever was evidently following a protocol which said something like “When you’ve asked each question you must record the subject’s first subsequent eye movement”

    3. Problem: Human beings aren’t robots and seldom if ever follow instructions EXACTLY as given, therefore

    4. What Stever was recording was a single eye movement (I assume) without having any way to check what the subjects were actually thinking about AT THE TIME (the protocol quite possibly also sought to minimise experimenter influence by stipulating something like: “There must be no communication with the subjects other than to ask the set questions”)

    5. In the debriefing sessions Stever was able to check what was REALLY going on – and discovered that the subjects WEREN’T doing EXACTLY as they were told

    6. Stever gives the example of a subject who was asked to RECALL VISUAL information but their eye movement indicated that they were accessing KINAESTHETIC information, BECAUSE that’s exactly what they were doing – recalling a feeling rather than a sight. In other words, their eye movement CONFORMED to the standard model

    7. BUT the protocol wasn’t constructed to allow for non-compliance, so on purely technical grounds a result such as that described in point 6 would be recorded AS THOUGH it contradicted the model.

    8. Thus Stever explicitly states that although the test results SEEMED to disprove the eye accessing cues model, he was personally satisfied, from the debriefing information, that the subjects’ eye movements CONFORMED to and SUPPORTED the standard NLP model to a significant degree.

    So, if an experienced NLPer like Stever Robbins only got the FULL picture at the post experiment debriefing, how many other experiments that SEEM to show no support for the eye accessing cue model only reached that result because they, too, are flawed in the same, or some similar way?

    Endless lists of websites and experiments are USELESS unless we know EXACTLY what protocol was used in each experiment, and unless we can show that each protocol took ADEQUATE account of the “human factor”.

    In which case Dr Heap’s REVIEW of various experiments is equally useless, as is Mr Platt’s rehash of Dr Heap’s review.

    What this page shows is that it is very difficult to calibrate the eye accessing cues ACCURATELY if you try to straightjacket your subjects. And thus why NLP techniques can be entirely valid, even if they do not readily submit to laboratory experimentation.

    So I thank Mr Platt for posting this web page, and I hope that he will continue in a similar vein.

  8. The Eyes Don’t Have It!
    I would like to respond to Mr Jupp’s posting with my own analysis of certain facts Stever drew himself.

    1. As Stever so readily admits it is virtually impossible to know what modalities the individual is accessing despite using sensory specific questions. And the only way to calibrate this is with questions posed after the event, in Mr Jupp’s own words: ‘In the debriefing sessions Stever was able to check what was REALLY going on – and discovered that the subjects WEREN’T doing EXACTLY as they were told’ Though quite how accurate these post debriefs were is unknown. Mr Jupp continued: ‘‘What this page shows is that it is very difficult to calibrate the eye accessing cues ACCURATELY if you try to straightjacket your subjects.’

    2. The purpose of eye accessing cues is to increase the ability to build rapport and empathy by using or tapping into the other person representation system, but as the eye accessing cues cannot be easily (if at all) linked to the representational system with any degree of certainty as clearly, emphatically and undeniably stated above the lack of purpose, irrelevance and uselessness of the whole approach is clearly established.

    Consider the problem in a free form discussion when the modalities being accessed will flex back and forth on a virtually random basis, calibrating eye accessing cues will not be ‘difficult’ but more like impossible. And even if it was possible, quite what the benefits of doing it would be are completely unproven.

    I too would like to thank Mr Jupp for giving me the chance to so clearly expose the underpinning failing of eye accessing cues.

    Professor Eckman of UCLA has never written about NLP to my knowledge but has developed a computer programme which analyses facial gestures and can predict with more than 90% accuracy whether some one is lying or not. The system is being trialled by a number of police authorities in Britain for possible adoption in interrogation settings. Eye movements of the type previously referred to are not cited in the research as indicator behaviour and as such would appear to contradict the clear claims of NLP. Experienced NLP practioners have stated to me that they can achieve higher prediction rates than 90%. These declarations would be more acceptable if they were backed up with clinical trial settings and hard research, but to date they are not.

    As I wrote before:

    Never in the field of Human Resource Development has so much been claimed by so many based on so little.

  9. Recent research
    More recent research shows that neurolinguistic programming is as pseudoscientific as it sounds. Its a misleading bunch of new age hooey. The minor tweaks and benefits from it are totally swamped in misdirection and embarrassingly wrong misconceptions about human mental functioning.

    NLP has been rated as one of a top ten most discredited interventions:

    John C. Norcross, Thomas P. Hogan, Gerald P. Koocher (2008) Clinician’s Guide to Evidence-based Practices. Oxford University Press, USA

    It has been rated as more discredited than thought field therapy (TFT)

    Norcross, JC, Garofalo.A, Koocher.G. (2006) Discredited Psychological Treatments and Tests; A Delphi Poll. Professional Psychology; Research and Practice. vol37. No 5. 515-522

    It resoundingly failed the tests of the 80s

    Sharpley C.F. (1987). “Research Findings on Neuro-linguistic Programming: Non supportive Data or an Untestable Theory”. Communication and Cognition Journal of Counseling Psychology, 1987 Vol. 34, No. 1: 103-107,105

    and is considered pseudoscientific bunkum:

    Lilienfeld Scott O. , Steven Jay Lynn, and Jeffrey M. Lohr (2003). Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology. Guilford Press, New York.

    Grant J. Devilly (2005) Power Therapies and possible threats to the science of psychology and psychiatry Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry Vol.39 p.437

    Drenth, J.D. (2003). “Growing anti-intellectualism in Europe; a menace to science”. ALLEA Annual Report

    Singer, Margaret & Janja Lalich (1996) Crazy Therapies : What Are They? Do They Work? Jossey-Bass (September 27, 1996)


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