One of the great misunderstandings of NLP is the misuse of eye accessing cues to asses truthiness.
In this essay Susan Stageman, one of our contributors and a long time NLP Trainer, explains it for you.
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The Lies About How To Tell If A Person Is Lying To You
I hear this often on TV shows and from what I understand, it is generally taught to police officers. What I hear is that if a person looks up to right, they are lying. This is another myth that originated from NLP and was taken out of context and taught wholesale to people without having the entire understanding of what they were saying.
NLP was originally developed to help people model excellence in human communication, learning and behavior. It helped us understand how people operated as systems. Early on in NLP, eye patterns (or eye cues) were taught to people as part of understanding internal computation (the sequence of patterning, Strategy, a person uses to do things or think, like how they make decisions).
Strategies are programs that run in the mind to do everything we do. Discerning the Internal Computation was part of strategy elicitation. Eye patterns were taught to therapists to so that they would pay attention to the internal processing of the client and/or match that processing to develop rapport.
For most of the Western European population, when eyes go up and to the left, a person is accessing remembered visual information and when eyes go up and to the right, a person is accessing constructed visual information. (Note: there are numerous exceptions in the way people are internally organized. A Basque friend of mine is completely reversed. He looks down to access visually.)
Somehow, over the years “constructed information” came to mean a person was making it up and therefore lying.
BUT many right handed, normally organized people construct out of recall. The images are extracted out of a remembered memory. In FROGS INTO PRINCES by Richard Bandler and John Grinder (page 21), you’ll find that when Bandler and Grinder asked a number of the same questions of various participants, they got similar but not entirely the same eye movements.
Some people would do one thing and others would do something else. To enhance rapport and understanding, a person would then match the words with the eye movements: visual eye movements with visual “see” predicate words and phrases. In fact, on a biochemical level, all memories are ‘constructed'(1). How ‘constructed’ a memory has to be to trigger a constructed eye-accessing pattern isn’t clear.
Then somewhere someone got the idea that if you asked a person a question and they got the answer out of visual construct that meant that they were lying.
NO, NO, NO. It means nothing of the kind. The whole idea of NLP was to get people to stop generalizing about people. Ironically, in this example the opposite happened: generalization on top of generalization resulted in gross misunderstanding, and likely even in some real harm.
Maybe the best approach to the whole issue is the simplest: just don’t hang around with people you think lie to you. It makes life much easier.
Susan Stageman is the founder of NLP Training Concepts, LLC. She is a Master NLP Practitioner and Certified Trainer. She has been teaching NLP since 1989.
(1) The Psychobiology of Mind-Body Healing, Ernest Lawrence Rossi, 1986, W.W. Norton & Company, page 69.