Research on Effectiveness of Neuro-Linguistic Programming. Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) is proposed as a power therapy or powerful personal development method by NLP practitioners promoting NLP training and courses. Research is presented on the nature of NLP.
Neuro-linguistic programming–NLPis a personal development method of the human potential movement. It is a set of methods and beliefs that adherents apply to psychotherapy, healing, communication andself development.
Neuro-linguistic programing was developed in California during the 1970s by Richard Bandler and John Grinder and claimed to be a set of models and principles to describe the relationship between neurology and linguistics and how their interaction can be used to program an individual’s mind, body and behavior. NLP is described by the original developers as “therapeutic magic” and “the study of the structure of subjective experience”].It is claimed that neuro-linguistic programing is for modeling the abilities of genius, and reproducing the performance and abilities of a genius.
According to the claims of the main NLP originators, neuro-linguistic programing is based on beliefs in created reality, the access to subconscious learning power, and body language cues derived from the observation of “therapeutic wizards”.The methods they claim include behavior change, transforming beliefs, through mind-body rituals, eye movements and use of NLP body language. It is claimed that neuro-linguistic programing is about form rather than content, and as such is sold as self improvement, psychotherapy, and a communication method, though it is regularly applied to commercial motivational seminars, seduction seminars, and psychic/occult matters.
Neuro-linguistic programing has become a subject of discussion in university courses on science and pseudoscience as a prime example of pseudoscience. Psychologists, neurologists, human resource experts, and linguists have investigated NLP in scientific research reviews which conclude that it is built on conceptually erroneous notions of neurology and linguistics, and it has failed to show its claimed efficacy in controlled studies.
Neuro-linguistic programing continues to be promoted and is popularized in new age and popular psychology channels. In the field of the sociology of religion it is considered to be an alternative to Scientology, and as a human development concern it tends to be used in combination with other mind-body-spirit developments such as remote viewing, psychic healing and qi or energy therapies.Neuro-linguistic programing is also taught on some human resource development and business courses, where it tends to be criticized for its heavily pseudo-scientific content. There is a growing concern about the spread of pseudoscientific ideas and misconceptions about the brain by developments such as NLP(SRMHP 2002).
Neuro-linguistic programming has now been identified as one of a top 10 most discredited interventions according to published research (2008).
Neuro-linguistic programming has been rated as even more discredited than Emotional Freedom Technique (energy therapies), family therapy for schizophrenia based upon double bind theory, bioenergetic therapy, catharsis therapy for anger, and more discredited than marathon encounter groups for psychological development. NLP has also been rated at the same level of discredit as equine therapy for the treatment of eating disorders, reparenting, and dolphin assisted therapy.
Neuro-linguistic programing jargon includes; eye accessing cues, submodality, metamodeling, micromodeling, metaprogramming, neurological levels, primary system, presupposition, modalities.
BBC Programme: The Story of NLP
Definitions of NLP
There have been a number of definitions of neuro-linguistic programming, though they all tend to be quite vague. NLP as “the study of the structure of subjective experience” has been given by several books, such as Dilts et al. This assumes that there is a structure to subjective experience, and that it is possible for someone to use neuro-linguistic programming to determine what that is and make changes to it. The focus on subjective reality is evident in the earlier personal development concern of dianetics, the main text of which states “subjective reality, not objective reality, is the important question for the auditor”
Another description is that NLP is just a non-analytical method of modeling other people, much the same as the way children model people. This assumes that children have no analytical skills and that they suppress any critical thinking or questioning. The modeling description of neuro-linguistic programming is proposed as a way to learn the unconscious “mental programs” of those with genius and otherwise extraordinary abilities.
NLP has also been described as an attitude that leaves behind a trail of techniques. There is no known definition of the “NLP attitude”, so it is quite difficult to know how the techniques have come to be. There are other definitions such as “the difference that makes the difference”, “an explicit and powerful model of human experience and communication” and “a highly effective methodology for modelling excellence and creating change”.It has been said that each definition of neuro-linguistic programming, much as the same as the name itself, is designed to double as sales pitch[A]and be so vague as to evade reliable testing. In any case, the definition chosen by a particular neuro-linguistic programmer will likely be determined according to their personal development, business seminar, ornew age/magickperspective.
Overview of NLP
An NLP “workshop”
Similar to other self-development concerns, neuro-linguistic programming involves identifying and changing beliefs. Presuppositions in linguistics are a type of background belief. Neuro-linguistic programing promotes beliefs that have been specifically derived from the beliefs of new age heros and gurus such as Virginia Satir, Gregory Bateson, and Fritz Perls. These beliefs are purported to make an individual more flexible in behavior.
One of the core presuppositional beliefs of NLP is:
The map is not the territory.This means that direct and objective knowledge of the (external) world is not possible. Much of the literature states this as “you create your own reality”
There are other presuppositional beliefs such as: The resources an individual needs in order to effect a change are already within them.”, and “every behaviour has a positive intention behind it”.
With regard to the core presuppositions of NLP, sociological researchers place neuro-linguistic programing as a human potential concern within the new age movement. The core map-territory belief is a specific factor that identifies NLP as postmodernist in philosophyand similar to other promotional new age developments it can be both associated with and antagonistic to science. Congruence is an important part of NLP, so the failure of NLP in controlled studies tends to cause incongruence in the believer whenever the subject is presented. Thus, while NLPers often invoke neurology and other scientific notions to promote their ideas, they will tend to take an anti-science stance when presented with independent evidence of failure. This sort of belief system is consistent with members of other similarly pseudo-scientific groups.
Specific methods proposed on NLP courses
Within neuro-linguistic programing, specific methods are taught.
The Swish PatternVisualization is a common theme in the new age developments such as dianetics, energy therapies and neuro-linguistic programing. The swish pattern is specific to NLP and involves manipulating mental imagery to make a claimed change in behavior. This involves taking an unwanted image. One example is taking a mental picture of the participant being insecure talking to a woman, then imagining a more confident situation, and substituting one image for the other whilst saying “sssswiiiiiiissshhhhh” in order to banish the negative feeling.NLP authors claim that the swish pattern is the utilization of submodalities, a scientific term distorted to make neuro-linguistic programming sound valid (See table below).
Circle of ExcellenceOne common neuro-linguistic programing activity in seminars and meetings is called the circle of excellence. This involves creating a magical circle on the ground, filling it with imaginary light, symbols, feelings of excellence, and then stepping into the circle.It is claimed that this can be imaginally zipped up to enhance positive energies, and to protect the adherent from negative energies.
Time Line TechniqueTime lines are used in neuro-linguistic programing to move you to past life or future life situations, to “change history”, to uncover claimed memories of past abuse and remove traumas, and to create new future life realities. As with Scientology, NLP uses the concept of going back in time to undo any claimed damage that has been done to the client.
Eye AccessingAnother method is eye accessing cues. This involves reading the eyes of a person to determine the thought process of that person. Eye accessing is also something NLP authors claim is useful for mirroring and powerful communication. It is also claimed by NLP proponents that readings from eye movements can be used to influence, persuade, and change other people’s subconscious programs.
Perceptual positions A situation is considered from different points of view of those involved, typically 1.self, 2.other, 3.a neutral observer, 4. a god’s eye view.This method is proposed as a way to examine interactions from increasingly higher levels.
Visual / Kinesthetic dissociation Imagining floating back and out of the body in order to dis-associate with a negative experience.
NLP modeling is a method that is promoted for duplicating behavior, expertise or excellence, or reproducing “magic” abilities of experts or geniuses.It can be thought of as the process of discovering relevant distinctions within these experiential components, as well as sequencing these components, aiming to achieve an amazing result. NLP proponents state that it is used to discover and codify patterns of excellence as demonstrated by geniuses in any field.
Typically, NLP authors claim to be able to model well known thinkers and performers such as Einstein,and even develop psychic states of consciousness. NLP modeling has also been applied to clinical conditions, such as schizophrenia which is reframed as a skill[. NLP models also include Jesus of Nazareth and despite never having existed in reality, Sherlock Holmes.
The Bagel Model
The Bagel model is a simple acronym for understanding how to prioritize one’s behaviour in a communication setting such as in conversation, in business, and so on. Thus, this is how the NLP adherent will deal with others in a personal conversation.
Body posture (eg. leaning back, head upwards and shallow breathing indicates visual representation)Accessing cues (eg. fluctuating voice tone and tempo indicates auditory representation)Gestures (eg. gesturing below the neck indicates kinesthetic representation)Eye movements (SeeEye accessing cues and the representational systemsbelow)Language patterns (specifically sensory based, eg. “I see!”, “Sounds right!” or “I feel that…”)
As can be seen here, there is a lot of focus on the superficial aspects of communication and influence. NLP also goes into pseudo-scientific detail regarding conversational aspects of influence. Again, rather than focus on what a speaker is actually saying, the NLP proponent focuses on how the person is speaking.
More About Eye Accessing
A core training exercise in neuro-linguistic programing involves learning to calibrate eye movements patterns with internal representations.According to NLP developers, this loosely relates to the VAK guidelines below
Visual:eyes up to left or right according to dominant hemisphere access; high or shallow breathing; muscle tension in neck; high pitched/nasal voice tone; phrases such as “I canimaginethe bigpicture”.
Auditory:eyes left or right; even breathing from diaphragm; even or rhythmic muscle tension; clear midrange voice tone, sometimes tapping or whistling; phrases such as “Let’stonedown thediscussion”.
Kinesthetic:eyes down left or right; belly breathing and sighing; relaxed musculature; slow voice tone with long pauses; phrases such as “I cangraspaholdof it”
Eye Accessing Cues as presented in Bandler, Grinder, and Dilts’ core book on NLP
There are other cues relating to the 3 primary senses theory. According to NLP authors Diltsand Lewis and Pucelik (1990)a person’s body type corresponds to their thinking style and their body type will be shaped by their thinking style. A tense thin body with protruding eyes, protruding chin, stiff jerky movements, tight lips and nasal speech are characteristic of a visually oriented person. A full soft body, big soft lips, and slow speech is characteristic of a kinesthetic person, and an auditory person is somewhere in between. NLP theory explains these breathing and mental processing according to the varying levels of chemical composition in the blood that affects the brain, and “Visual” people tend to be fast visual thinkers and can seem untrustworthy to “kinesthetic” thinkers because thinking by feeling is inherently slow.It is further claimed that matching VAK predicates can build rapport with individuals.
Some authors, especially the management oriented promoters tend to use internal Verbal/Auditory/Kinesthetic strategies in order to categorize people within a thinking strategies or learning styles framework for instance, that there exist visual, kinesthetic or auditory types of manager. For example, Andrew Bradbury, in Improve Your NLP Skills,assigns a type to managers and workers also with reference to NLP eye accessing charts. Thus, it is purported that there are visual, auditory and kinesthetic managers.
This focus on the senses is partly related to the “magical” aspects of neuro-linguistic programing. Many esoteric magical systems refer to the five senses of the pentegram, with a preference for visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. This is also sometimes related to more Eastern esoteric development. According to NLP practitioner and author, Menon (1997),the representational systems in NLP correspond with the vedic occult elements of air/fire (most people), water and earth (VAK). As can be seen in the scientific investigation of NLP, the sense path notions of NLP are conceptually erroneous and have failed the reviews of controlled studies used to test neuro-linguistic programing.
Scientific Testing of NLP
NLP authors generally avoid the issue of scientific testing. However, NLP claims were subject to a battery of controlled studies in the 1980s and its models and methods were found to be largely ineffective.
In the journal Human Resource Development Quarterly, Von Bergen et al (1997) state that “in relation to current understanding of neurology and perception, NLP is in error”, and “NLP does not stand up to scientific scrutiny”. In Enhancing Human Performance, “an evaluation of New Age techniques”, Druckman et al (1988) say that “instead of being grounded in contemporary, scientifically derived neurological theory, NLP is based on outdated metaphors of brain functioning and is laced with numerous factual errors”.
Between 1976 and 1988 a battery of controlled studies was conducted on neuro-linguistic programing. The 1988 US National Committee (a board of scientific experts) report found that “Individually, and as a group, these studies fail to provide an empirical base of support for NLP assumptions…or NLP effectiveness. The committee cannot recommend the employment of such an unvalidated technique”.In addition, Edgar Johnson, technical director of the Army Research Institute heading “Project Jedi” concerning NLP, stated that “Lots of data shows that it doesn’t work”. Heap (1989) says “NLP has failed to yield convincing evidence for the NLP model, and failed to provide evidence for its effectiveness”.
Clinical and forensic psychologist Dr Heap (1989) says “the conjecture that a person has a preferred representational system (PRS), which is observed in the choice of words, has been found to be false according to rigorous research reviews”. “The assertion that a person has a PRS which can be determined by the direction of eye movements found even less support”.
There are a minority of positive single experimental studies on NLP, and these are often quoted by NLP companies (without referring to the substantially larger amount of critical scientific reviews). A single critique by Einspruch and Forman (1985)said that Sharpley’sreview of NLP contained methodological errors. However, in a later study Sharpley refuted this and provided further experimental evidence to demonstrate that NLP is ineffective and in error in both method and model
More specifically, Sharpley rebutted Einspruch and Foreman’s assertion that the researchers failed to understand NLP as an approach to therapy. Sharpley responded with direct reference to Bandler and Grinder’s literature where PRS is accepted as fact and that “its accurate identification is a primary aspsect of effective therapy”. The researchers tested this statement, and NLP failed.
Sharpley also rebutted Einspruch and Foreman’s assertion that some of the researchers were not adequately trained (some studies were conducted as part of doctoral (PhD) theses). Sharpley stated “although it is accepted that graduate students do not represent highly experienced and senior therapists, the use of such persons is not only traditional in the comparative psychotherapy literature, but can also be a strong argument for both the ready application of a specific procedure, and the robustness of that procedure”. In addition, adding experts to an experiment would introduce exactly the sort of bias that experiments are designed to avoid.
Workable psychological interventions manage to show a positive result using the standard of independent researchers and postgraduate thesis, and the results show overwhelmingly that NLP failed. The results of other non-PRS aspects of NLP also indicate the conceptual errors of NLP and its failure as a method overall.In Sharpley’s rebuttal paper he also included a number of new studies into the meta-analysis which made it even more conclusive that there was no evidence to support the claims of neuro-linguistic programmers.
Neuro-linguistic programing involves a wide range of misleading ideas that exemplify modern pseudoscience. For example, leading and pacing is a subject of interest to NLP proponents, especially as it is purported to relate to persuasion. However, research on mirroring indicates that when the mirroring hypothesis is explained to the subject in sessions or seminars, the subject tends to see the person using the technique as more convincing. However, when the mirroring hypothesis is not mentioned to the subject, they can find the person using the technique unconvincing. Mirroring has also been found to be distracting, irritating, and unwise for communication purposes.
The research on NLP indicates that mirroring eye movements is also ineffective. In more reliable literature mirroring is often known as the chameleon effect, which is just an effect rather than a cause. Communication research generally states that communication and rapport are improved by responding with reasonable empathy to what the other communicator is saying. without attempting persuasion In addition, some studies have shown that specific NLP techniques for improving rapport have been tested with the result that NLP was found to make people less trustworthy in communication.
Thus, objective empirical studies and review papershave consistently shown that NLP fails proper testing, and reviews or meta-analysis have given NLP a conclusively negative assessment, and the reiterated statement is that there is no neuro-scientific basis for any of NLP’s claims, or any scientific support for its claimed efficacy.
Efran and Lukens (1990)state that the “original interest in NLP turned to disillusionment after the research and now it is rarely even mentioned in psychotherapy”. Norcross et al ran a survey of psychology experts who reported as early as 1992, that NLP was predicted to exhibit a marked decline.The follow-up study that focused on predictions towards psychotherapy in 2010 eliminated NLP as it was going to be far too dated to be included in the study.Norcross et al also included NLP in a set of discredited therapies. Eisner (2000) states that “NLP proponents have provided not one iota of scientific support for their claims”. The various claims NLP proponents make have no clinical support and are grossly misleading
In a recent paper investigating pseudo-scientific posturing, Professor Devillystates that “controlled studies shed such a poor light on NLP and those promoting the intervention made such extreme and changeable claims that that researchers found it unwise to test the theory any further”. “NLP is no longer as prevalent as it was in the 1970s or 1980s, but is still practiced in small pockets: The science has come and gone, yet the belief still remains”. Devilly explains in an online discussion that NLP is held up as an archetypical pseudoscienceR.NLP is now considered more interesting to researchers as either a new age belief system in sociology of religion research streams, or as an example of pseudo-scientific thinking for helping undergraduate students avoid stating and spreading pseudo-scientific distortions in term papers, theses, and life in general.
Claims to science made by NLP practitioners
With a name such as Neuro Linguistic Programming, and a large collection of scientific sounding terms, NLP presents itself in the guise of various legitimate research streams such as neuroscience, neuro-linguistics, and psychology. However, according to cognitive neuroscience Professor Michael Corballis (1999) “neuro-linguistic programing is a thoroughly fake title, designed to give the impression of scientific respectability.”Professor Singer (1999) states that “neuro-linguistic programing often associates itself with science in order to raise its own prestige”.Anthropologist Professor Winkin considers such promotion to be “intellectually fraudulent” and compares NLP’s association with science to astrology’s association to astronomy
There is significant evidence of the tendency of NLP proponents to avoid the proper testing of neurolinguistic programing. As with any other science, theory is central to behavioral science. However, Gregory Bateson in page ix of the
Structure of Magic Volume I claims that, “The behavioral sciences, and especially psychiatry, have always avoided theory…”. The co-originators have also stated, “We are not psychologists, and we’re also not theologians or theoreticians”.Prof Singer (1996) states that “none of the NLP developers have done any research to “prove” their models correct though NLP promoters and advertisers continue to call the originators scientists and use such terms as science, technology and hi-tech psychology in describing NLP”. Advertising bodies in the UK have asked for NLP proponents to stop promoting NLP as a new science.NLP websites and books continue to call NLP ascience2
Neuro-babble is a term used in psychology to describe what promoters of some self development courses tend to do in their use of contrived jargon. This is related to the term; psychobabble. Neuroscience in the 1970s was just beginning to make discoveries about the brain, and it was becoming popular for newspapers to have articles about the more recent discoveries. So adding Neuro to a title tended to make it more attractive and respectable sounding. Since many may be less likely to see the difference between science and pseudoscience, it became easy to dupe consumers into joining seminars and buying into product lines. Fortunately, the public in general are becoming more aware of babble of all sorts, and with increasing levels of web knowhow and education, dubious subjects are more likely to be identified as such.
Claims to Linguistics
Neurolinguist, Prof Willem Levelt states that “Neuro-linguistic programing is not informed about linguistics literature, it is based on vague insights that were out of date long ago, their linguistics concepts are not properly construed or are mere fabrications, and conclusions are based upon the wrong premises. NLP theory and practice has nothing to do with neuroscientific insights or linguistics, nor with informatics or theories of programming”.Levelt explains that NLP’s concepts such as nominalization, are erroneous, and NLP’s use of the engram concept is there to simply sound scientific.Clearly NLP’s linguistics and neuro-linguistics concepts are designed to be as comforting and appealing as possible, yet there is no foundation for the support of those concepts:
NLP proponents state that neuro-linguistic programing is based upon Chomsky’s transformational grammar and that this grammar is a universally occurring pattern that makes neuro-linguistic programing universally applicable. However, according to Weitsenhoffer, “the major weakness of Bandler and Grinder’s linguistic analysis is that so much of it is built upon untested hypotheses and is supported by totally inadequate data. Additionally, because-by Chomsky’s own admission-the concept of deep structure he originated remains a reasonable but untested hypotheses, we end up with a situation in which assumptions are built upon assumptions. This is a poor, unscientific practice. Furthermore, not only do many assertions made by linguists remain indefinite in the absence of supporting evidence for making them, but Bandler and Grinder appear to have introduced terms and ideas of their own that are not a part of the accepted body of modern linguistics.”
According to Bandler and Grinder, nominalization also constitutes a linguistic “distortion. However, there is no evidence that any kind of “distortion” is present, but quite apart from this, the idea of a distortion seems to be particular to the two authors. Standard works on linguistics make no mention of a distortion resulting. In fact, the position usually held is that both of the above sentences are acceptable equivalent surface structures representing a common deep structure.
Bandler and Grinder’s idea of a distortion seems to be connected with heir claim that much information is needed when nominalization takes place. Again, this is not claimed by other writings on linguistics. It is a contention of Bandler and Grinder that Erickson effectively used planned nominalization in his work because of an associated vagueness. Now it is quite true that vagueness and ambiguity can arise out of nominalizations, but obviously this is not the universal consequence that Bandler and Grinder make it out to be.
The “neuro”of NLP and visual, auditory and kinesthetic paths according to NLP literature
With the increase in dubious information on the Internet and other highly commercial channels, there has been an increased interest in helping people to identify erroneous thinking in order to reduce information overload. As such, neuro-linguistic programing has been identified as a useful subject for learning how to identify pseudo-scientific promoting logical fallacies, and mind myths. Undergraduate university courses in psychology, philosophy of science, and critical thinking are increasingly using NLP as an exemplar of pseudo-science due to its high density of erroneous platitudes and misconceptions, and its cult-like communities.
Sanghera (2005) states that “critics say NLP is simply a half-baked conflation of pop psychology and pseudoscience that uses jargon to disguise the fact that it is based on a set of banal, if not incorrect, presuppositions, The critics are probably right”. Neuro-linguistic programing has been criticized by clinical psychologists, management scholars, linguists, psychotherapists and cult awareness groups, concerning ineffectiveness, pseudo-scientific promoting of myths about linguistics and neurology, ethically questionable, cult-like characteristics, and promotion by exaggerated claims.
Psychology professors, Winkin (1990) and Beyerstein (1990)associate NLP with the classic pseudoscience of phrenology, and NLP has been classed as a pseudo-scientific self help development, in the same mold as EST (now known as Landmark Forum) and Dianetics(Scientology). The author Salernoexplains NLP in the context of pseudo-science, and has criticized its promotion within self-help. Psychologists such as Singerand management experts such as Von Bergen (1997)have criticized its use within management and human resources developments due to its pseudo-scientific nature.
Numerous extraordinary and unsupported claims have been made by some NLP promoters. There have been claims by Richard Bandler, for example, that the heightening of perception using neuro-linguistic programing can allow a novice martial artist to beat an expert, that homosexuality can be “treated” with neuro-linguistic programming, and that it is possible to develop photographic memory through the use of NLP.
According to Professor Drenth, NLP adhers to the outdated engram concept. Historically, NLP has many pseudo-scientific associations such as the explicit and implicit erroneous adherence to the subconscious engram, claims to rapid cures and treatment of traumas, the use of popular new age myths such as unlimited potential, left/right brain simplicities, past life regression, and the use marketing/recruitment models similar to that of Dianetics (Scientology) and other cults.
Pseudo-science is prone to certain fallacies and characteristics. These can be; overgeneral predictions, pseudo-scientific experimentation, dogmatic adherence or recycling of un-validated claims.
Lilienfeld (2003)states “the characteristics of pseudoscience are more specifically shown thus” (e.g.);
“The use of obscurantist language” (eg meta programs, parapragmatics, sub-modalities etc) “The lack of proper connectivity with recognized scientific principles””Over-reliance on testimonial and anecdotal evidence” “An overuse of ad hoc hypotheses and reversed burden of proof designed to immunize claims from falsification” “Emphasis on confirmation rather than refutation (eg reliance on asking how rather than why)” “Absence of boundary conditions” (the claim that NLP is extremely powerful and can be used for anything) “The mantra of holism and eclecticism designed to immunize from verifiable efficacy” (Claiming that NLP is unmeasurable due to too many factors or to simplistically “do what works”“Evasion of peer review” (If NLP claims were true, why are they not properly documented and presented to the scientific community?) “Reversed burden of proof (away from those making claim (NLP promoters), and towards those testing the claim (Scientists))”.
Pseudo-scientific arguments tend to contain several or all of these factors, as can be seen in this examplethat shows ad hoc hypotheses and holistic argument as an attempt to explain away the negative findings, and an emphasis on confirmation and reversed burden of proof etc.
Modern neuroscience indicates that NLP’s notions of neurology are erroneous and pseudo-scientific in regards to: left/right brain hemispheric differences, the association of eye movements or body gestures to brain hemispheres, and in the universal division of humanity to 40% visual, 40% auditory and 20% kinesthetic,in the adherence of NLP to positive/negative energies. Professor Robert Carrol states that it is impossible to determine a “correct” NLP model. Neuro-linguistic programing is also based on some of Freud’s most flawed and pseudo-scientific thinking that has been rejected by the mainstream psychology community for decades. According to Weitsenhoffer “any references made to left and right brain functions in relation to hypnotic phenomena must be considered as poorly founded. Indeed, references such as Bandler and Grinder make to these functions give their subject matter a false appearance of having a more scientific status than it has”
Fig. 1: Fig. 1: Table from an MIT presentation of a course on distinguishing the difference between science and pseudo-science (2009).
Fig. 2: A
Learning to identify pseudoscience, logical fallacies, and mythologies has allowed students to avoid using such errors in their own coursework. It also helps them avoid making embarrassingly incorrect statements about the nature of the mind and brain within their own peer groups. This is especially important as pseudo-science tends to become institutionalized to some degree, with NLP and the enneagram being taught in some universities as out of discipline seminars. Institutionalization of pseudo-science is also a problem in work as books on NLP, remote viewing for managers, and the enneagram and business, often get mistaken for legitimate business related subjects.
Dr Carmel Lum of the University of Cambridge uses neuro-linguistic programing as an example of pseudoscience in speech and language therapy training. Lum describes neuro-linguistic programing’s pseudo-scientific promoting of misconception in terms of its subjective perspective and retarded level of development and contrasts it with the objective and forward looking scientific field of neuro-linguistics
NLP and Cognitive Bias
The spread of pseudo-sciences such as neuro-linguistic programing has been explained with reference to cognitive bias that the human mind is prone to. In the International Journal of Mental Health’s special issue on quackeryProfessor Beyerstein (1990) says that as a pseudo-scientific fringe therapy NLP groups show evidence of promoting cognitive bias in teaching NLP. He explains that “bogus therapies can be explained by the placebo effect, social pressure, superficial symptomatic rather than core treatment , and overestimating some apparent successes while ignoring, downplaying, or explaining away failures.”(1997) In Brianscams, Beyerstein states that when the New Age brain manipulators such as NLP are challenged, “critics typically encounter anecdotes and user testimonials where there ought to be rigorous pre-and post treatment comparisons”.
Prof Pratkanisexplains that pseudo-science such as NLP is promoted using a variety of social psychology ploys:
To create a phantom: An unavailable goal that looks real and possible; it looks as if it might be obtained with just the right effort, just the right belief, or just the right amount of money, but in reality it can’t be obtained. Clearly NLP literature abounds with such phantoms, from the attainment of genius abilities, and performance to unlimited potential, to immunity from negative energies.
Manufacture source credibility and sincerity: In other words, create a set of gurus, leaders, mystics etc or any other generally likable and powerful authority. Also generate a set of qualifications. NLP practitioner certificates are awarded within a weekend on many courses. Their attainment is virtually automatic. NLP practitioners also produce business like books in their promotion in addition to writing books and articles about the more occult oriented NLP interests.
Establish a Granfalloon: Kurt Vonnegut terms a “granfalloon,” a proud and meaningless association of human beings. Granfalloons are powerful propaganda devices because they are easy to create and, once established, the granfalloon defines social reality and maintains social identities. Granfalloons generally share jargon, beliefs, shared feelings, and enemies.
Construct vivid appeals:In other words, a vividly presented case study or example can make a lasting impression. NLP is full of wild stories about practitioners curing phobias in under 10 minutes, teaching housewives to beat martial artists just by slowing down their perception, triggering photographic memory, curing long sightedness and so on.
Attack opponents through innuendo and character assassination: NLP newsgroups tend to exhibit such attitudes, including stating that critics and scientists are motivated by jealousy and a desire to possess NLP powers, or that there is a general conspiracy among psychologists who prefer to charge for years of sessions, rather than have people cured as instantly and powerfully as is claimed with NLP.
Professor Drenthexplains; pseudo-scientific psychology hitches into the (sometimes desperate) need of people with psychological problems: neurotic, anxious, depressive, or phobic patients, that are despondent at the end of regular and unsuccessful treatments, often take anything for granted. Pseudo-scientific movements often make use of social psychological mechanisms, such as the need for belonging, group think, ingroup – outgroup controversy.
Critics are silenced with the retort that one must be part of the movement to make a sound judgment. Lack of criticism is further enhanced by features reminescent of new religions: gurus, rituals, incantations, and inaccessibility. Founding theories and visions were once popular and accepted, but new scientific research has demonstrated their untenability; however, adepts still cherish the idols and adhere the outdated ideas. Often pseudo-scientific practices are motivated by loathsome pursuit of gain. We have already seen the economic manipulation of the credulity of NLP-quarries and well known is the financial exploitation of the victims of scientology, avantar and similar movements: mundus vult decipi, even if – or, paradoxically, because – it requires financial sacrifices.
The claims of NLP proponents have been criticized in terms of their level of misinformation regarding scientific literacy. NLP originator Grinder states that “I would ask the person entering a training to be an active skeptic – more specifically, that they question everything, demanding first hand evidence (that is, personal experience) for each and every claim issued by the trainer(s).”GHowever, scientific skepticism ‘s core concern is that personal experience is subject to bias and intrinsically unreliable. Scientific skepticism would rather prioritize the fact that the more independent empirical evidence shows that NLP failed to show any efficacy in controlled studies, and that any claims made as to the efficacy of any intervention should require independent support. “Try it for yourself”, is a common recruitment method used by many dubious and pseudo-scientific groups.
According to Weitsenhoffer, professor of psychology and colleague of Milton Erickson, “when viewed superficially, demonstrations of anchoring given by Bandler and Grinder at their workshops have been at times impressive. However, when closely examined, they have shown themselves to be far less impressive, and at times to be questionable demonstrations“
NLP courses appear to depend upon charismatic appeal, wish-fulfillment, quick fixes, and lack of critical faculty, than actual quantifiable results, and so are often considered pseudoscience. The original fad of NLP has undergone further controversy and abandonment since the further realization that it is simply a fad and a cult, and the divorce of Tony Robbins despite his commercial promotion of “Perfect Marriage” counseling has led to a great deal of disenchantment from his own followers (Salerno 2005).
Neuro-linguistic programming and other pseudo-scientifically promoted notions have no efficacy per se, but they do tend to use methods that promote cognitive bias in their favor. This explains why they are so widespread, and why cult exit counsellors require so much time and effort to help deal with the cognitive dissonance of the ex member. In the case of NLP, the proponent exhibits increasing levels of cognitive dissonance in the defense of NLP’s failure to perform in controlled studies.
Ethical concerns about NLP and pseudo-science
NLP book titles include “The Unfair Advantage: Sell with Neuro-linguistic Programing” and “NLP the New Art and Science of Getting What You Want”. As such ethical concerns of NLP’s encouragement towards manipulation have been raised. Neuro-linguistic programing is seen as encouraging people to find more ways to manipulate individuals against their will within seduction, sales and business settings. The methods have been found to be ineffective in themselves, but as with all pseudo-sciences, the neuro-linguistic programing mindset appears to encourage the user to persist in ethically dubious activities.
The therapy and coaching fields require an ethical code of conduct. It has been found that NLP certified practitioners often show a weak grasp of ethics In addition, Beyerstein (1999) states that “ethical standards bodies and other professional associations state that unless a technique, process, drug, or surgical procedure can meet requirements of clinical tests, it is ethically questionable to offer it to the public, especially if money is to change hands”. Neuro-linguistic programing is also criticised for unethically encouraging the belief in non existent maladies and insecurities in otherwise normal individuals. Professor Beyerstein (1990) explains that it is unethical to apply any educational intervention if it is not supported by properly controlled studies.
Some well known NLP authors and proponents are well known for dubious or illegal activity. Bandler was accused of murder in the 1980s, after a prostitute was shot in the head (with Bandler’s gun, which was retrieved by divers together with Bandler’s bloodstained clothes).AThe usual NLP mythology is that he used NLP to get himself out of trouble. However, he employed a top US defense lawyer for that purpose. NLP author and therapist, Carmine Baffa, was tried and convicted of multiple rape(A)(B), and wrote about sex and NLP in his online NLP site. Some NLP authors, in addition to promoting neuro-linguistic programing despite its failure to produce results in controlled studies, are prone to attacking people who present scientific findings on the Web. For example, author of Improve your NLP Skills, Andrew Bradbury is known for attacking those online who present a science view of NLP(A)(B)and threatening libel action to suppress scientific debate (A).
Specific applications proposed by NLP practitioners
Neuro-linguistic programming is sometimes compared with the evidence based development of cognitivebehavioraltherapy (CBT), or even been called a type of CBT. However, in contrast, neuro-linguistic programming is very commonly sold in new age or self help sections of bookstores, through advertised seminars about human potential, spiritual development, and in some pockets of the human resources seminar circuits.
New Age, Alternative Medicine and Self Help: Neuro-linguistic programming it written to be appealing to “healers” and followers of the new age persuasion as its central philosophies tend towards the subjectivist or relativist mindset, and tend to be happier to dismiss the scientific findings of NLP’s conceptual errors and empirical failure. Alternative medicine practitioners have a tendency to apply pseudo-scientific interventions such as neuro-linguistic programming to their quasi-spiritual practices in order to attach NLP’s scientific sounding jargon to explain their practices in “neuro” terms.As with “village hall psychics”, alternative practitioners use neuro-linguistic programming to try to create a semblance of authority to reduce the critical faculties of clients, and to keep them coming back with vague promises of unlimited human potential. NLP past life therapy is a key example of this, whereby non-existant blocks to achievement are claimed to be removed to make the client “feel” as if they have been treated.Critical questioning is usually dismissed with the retort that “perception is relative” or that the client is blocking the process with “negative energy”.
Some NLP authors also claim (e.g.E) that as neuro-linguistic programming is not technically a therapy, rather a communication method, that therefore, that its overwhelming failure as reported in counseling and therapy journals is not valid. However, according to received neuroscience and linguistics knowledge, neuro-linguistic programming’s concepts are still erroneous,its methods failed controled tests,and as a group, NLP proponents exhibit many if not all the characteristics of pseudo-science.
Occult practices: Winkin (1990)states that with its promotion with energy therapies,Tai Chi, Meditation, and Dianetics (Scientology), NLP is in the margins of contemporary obscurantism. With its core new age trappings, practitioners often attempt to model spiritual experiences, which inherently lack scientific support. NLP is often sold in combination with shamanic methods of magick such as those by (by Richard Bandler) or Huna (by Tad James).
Human resources: As with other pseudo-scientific subjects such as dianetics-oriented management courses, human resource experts such as Von Bergen et al (1997) consider neuro-linguistic programing to be inappropriate for management and human resource training.NLP has been found to be most ineffective concerning influence/persuasion and modeling of skills. There is a general view that NLP is dubious and is not to be taken seriously in a business context. In Cults in Our Midst, professor Singer explains that with neuro-linguistic programing applied to management training there have also been complaints concerning undue and forced adoption of fundamental beliefs tantamount to a forced religious conversion.There is no cognitive or psychological basis for the adoption of NLP’s pre-suppositional beliefs of unlimited human potential or created realities. Neuro-linguistic programing has also been described as pseudo-science by forensic examiners and interviewers..
Neurolinguistic programing and education:NLP is considered as part of “accelerated learning” or “brain based learning”“PDF.According to Sala et al (1999) such developements often involve misleading and pseudoscientific promotion. The research on cognitive styles (visual, auditory and kinesthetic) has been found to be highly questionable according to latest research. There is no basis for the VAK theory or practice.Education columnist Philip Beadle states that rather than being a legitimate certificate, NLP is just a mark of social inadiquacyA
Cosmetic effect claims: NLP is applied to breast enhancement, hair regrowth and penis enlargement. For example, the NLP practitioner, Goodmansells NLP audio recordings of the NLP swish pattern for enlarging penis size. Eisner (2000) states that if these miraculous effects are true, then why have they not been properly documented, nor presented to the scientific community?
Neurolinguistic programing is sometimes referred to in scientific research reviews as a psychocult, and in research it is often considered to be akin to a cult. A German educational board banned the use of neurolinguistic programing in education and stated that it has a close similarity toScientology. In several countries, NLP has been called Nazilinguistic programming, due to NLP practitioners teaching it to far-right nationalist political groups in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria..The unlimited human potential aspect of neurolinguistic programing appeals to the Uberman aspect of the nationalist mentality, and such groups are known to be easily influenced by pseudoscientific reasoning.
Similar to other pseudoscientific subjects such as Dianetics (Scientology) and EST (Landmark), neurolinguistic programing uses methods that are adopted as a pretext for applying ritual, authority control, dissociation, reduced rationalization, and social pressure to obtain compliance and dependence.According to Devilly (2005)it is common for pseudoscientific developments to set up a granfalloon in order to promote in-group rituals and jargon, and to attack critics. Thus, although NLP is ineffective for its stated purposes, it is used as a fake science in a similar way to other psuedoscientific therapies such as primal scream therapy, ESTand Dianetics.
Sociologists such as Hunt (2003)and Barrett (1998), class NLP as a New Age development, and Kelly (1999)explains that NLP made its contribution to the 1970s foundation of the New Age movement. This is partly due to related New Age notions that were common at the time of development, such as Dianetics promoted by Fritz Perls (whom NLP was modeled after). Grinder developed neurolinguistic programing rituals from the shamanic teachings of Carlos Castaneda, such as the the NLP double induction process, and perceptual positions, which are “designed to move attention or energy to other realities”
Despite its failure to achieve any level of effectiveness in controlled studies, NLP adherents continue to believe in the power of neurolinguistic programing, and as such, NLP has been called a New Alternative Religion and an alternative version of Scientology. NLP proponents continue to promote neurolinguistic programing as a power therapy, and often in combination with other subjects that involve dubious claims, such as remote viewing, Huna, remote influence, and similar quasi-spiritual concerns. Bandler now teaches remote viewing in his seminars, and Grinder employs native American Shamanism rituals in his business seminars. The state of neurolinguistic programing has shifted from the scientific testing/failure stage, to a new alternative/new age religious following. The business side of its promotion tends to involve a more belief-field and empowerment perspective, though the ability of NLP proponents to spread misinformation about the nature of the mind and brain will likely increase the babble quotient of any gullible or scientifically illiterate suit in the room. As the population of the world becomes more educated and literate, and less likely to tolerate time wasting misinformation about the brain and general overload, neurolinguistic programing looks to becoming increasingly fringe as we move further into the 21stcentury.
NLP: An Exemplar of Pseudo-science
There are a great many effective treatments and interventions for improving training, performance, and mental ability, and they are supported by reliable independent evidence. Those that include rigorously tested human resources and training methods which refer to reliable concepts and realistic claims are most likely to prove useful. An increasingly useful activity in this regard now is the identification of pseudosciences and placing them in contrast with legitimate scientific developments. Due to its pseudoscientific nature in concept and in the behavior of its adherents, neurolinguistic programming is likely to become increasingly useful as an archetypal example of modern pseudoscience.
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