Good NLP myths don’t die

Yep, it's back yet again - the NLP Lie-Detector myth or lie.  I've just come across a Google Alerts' reference to this NLP lie-detector article from Alabama’s North Jefferson News.

What myth?? You know, it's the one which says that you can tell if a person is lying by whether they look up to the right or to the left when you ask them a question.

The Myth

In essence it suggests that if you ask someone a question and their eyes move up and to their left they ‘should be’ remembering something they have already seen.  And if they look up and to their right they ‘are’ creating or making up an image.

So if I ask you a question and you look up and to your right this shows me that you are making up the answer i.e. you are lying. Simple! And false.

(By the way, here's a previous article about the lie-detector myth published in February 2008.)

According to The North Jefferson News

Teresa Vise, the article’s author, says the eye movement indicators of lying relates to the right and left sides of the brain. Broadly stated, the parts of the brain handling creativity and feelings dwells in the right while and facts and memory hang out in the left. The research behind this is called Neuro-linguistics Programming (NLP) theory was developed in the 1960s.

She does add that it doesn’t always mean the person is lying. It could mean that the person is uncertain of the answer, and is creatively speculating...

Having said that she then adds Either way it may be good to know that a look right in search for an answer to a direct question means that the person is probably lying or guessing according to this theory. What you really want to see is a direct straight on look with the direct straight on answer.

So, amazingly, she is asserting that if people don't look you straight in the eye it's likely they are being devious...

Teresa does somewhat undermine her credibility by describing NLP as a research (!), stating that is is called Neuro-linguistics Programming (NLP) theory and announcing that it was developed in the 1960s.  It is called Neuro-Linguistic Programming. And her starting date is a bit earlier than the original developers would put it – they seem to think they began developing NLP between during the period 1974-1976.

Does it matter?

It may be not a big deal, in the wide world of NLP, to have an inaccurate article about NLP appear in a twice weekly newspaper with a circulation of 3000.

Nevertheless it shows how easily myths become reality. People quote people who quote others. So writers owe it to their readers to be accurate. The author is not only an MSc and an MBA but also appear to be quite active in her community. So she has credibility and her views may carry weight.

According to someone called Billy Boy Franklin “If a lie is repeated often enough all the dumb jackasses in the world not only get to believe it, they even swear by it.” It’s a wise and much-repeated quotation though I’ve been unable to trace who he is or was - it may be Billy Graham's son, though.

And, anyway, Francis Bacon put it more subtlety “Lies are sufficient to breed opinion, and opinion brings on substance”.

NLP’s weakness or strength

However this article points to a weakness in NLP. There is no central NLP organisation or governing body so there is no-one looking out for how NLP is being presented to the general public. Anyone can write anything anywhere about NLP without fear of being criticised or corrected.

Yet, this weakness in NLP is also, in my opinion, its strength.

NLP is a powerful and dynamic system of insights and knowledge, supported by a great methodology. It would long since have been hijacked by universities and the psychological and psychiatric professions had it not been for the fact that, in the early days, Bandler and Grinder were so cocky and scathing in their attitude towards these august bodies.

When in the mid to late 70s the NLP co-developers first began running NLP workshops around the US, Richard Bandler was in his mid 20s and John Grinder was in his early 30s. So it was particularly galling to the medical and psychological and psychiatric professions that these young upstarts were gleefully goading them with how NLP could resolve problems such as phobias much more quickly and effectively then could the professionals with their years of training.


When I first came across their comments over thirty years ago I thought they were being short-sighted and that, instead, they should cultivate the establishment and become ‘accepted’.

I was wrong.

Had they not done it their way NLP would now be carefully managed and organised,  run by committees of the great and the good, policed by university academics, all NLP methods would have to be peer-reviewed and published in learmed journals, and you’d probably need a university degree to be able to attend an NLP course.


You'll find more articles on Rep Systems here:

NLP, eyes and lying – Q&A – published Summer 2000  (from Q&A published Summer 2000)
NLP Representational Systems: Predicates  (September 2001)
Using the famous NLP Eye Accessing Cues  (January 2002)
'Gimme time to think!'  (January 2006)
The NLP Eye Accessing Cues  (January 2007)
NLP & Representational Systems  (February 2007)
The ‘NLP Lie Detector Technique’  (February 2008)
Trivialising NLP (again…)  (February 2010)
The NLP Lie-Detector Myth (yet again…)  (August 2010)
How to use the NLP 'Rep Systems' (March 2012)
‘The Eyes Don’t Have It’ – NLP scientifically disproved?  (July 2012)
Using the NLP Eye Movements  (April 2013)


  1. Tudor Barker on 1st August 2010 at 8:06 PM

    Unfortunately the myth about eye movements and directions, was and “is” believed by some in positions that have influence over others.

    Any contradiction to the use of the myth being met by the magical mantra “it’s NLP so it must be true”.

    Sadly the core essence of NLP is often distorted by those who would seek power or control, these missuses denigrate NLP and many that use it.

    As you say Reg, anyone can call themselves a NLP “whatever” there is no overseeing body that regulates NLP trainers or users.

    All this gives rise to the question, “what is NLP”.

    I would suggest that Pegasus is possibly the closest practitioner of NLP used for benign purposes.

    Sadly the benefits of a Pegasus based training in the use of NLP does not always mean the users do not distort the subject to suit ulterior aims.

  2. Margaret E.Johnson on 2nd August 2010 at 9:15 AM

    Hi Reg, I hope you contacted the lady and news sheet in question to disillusion on both counts, after all action counts more than words even if only by writing with the correct information.
    my understanding of the eye movements is that these are supposedly determined by the dominant handedness of the person being observed. How about if the person is searching for a memory that is elusive, surely when this happens the eyes would possibly move around involuntarily in the search as all the senses are brought into play in the effort
    As to Tudor’s question What is NLP this is something I have seen written many times. Surely the words are self explanatory to anyone who understands them? Bandler and Grinder obviously researched what it was that made effective change in behaviour so that is where the research part for the label NLP comes from and the title NLP originates.
    The difficulty I think is in deciding where Neuro Linguistic Programming itself originated, in all probability this is an impossible task. The Ancient Romans were well aware of neuro linguistic programming, take for instance their strategy of divide and conquer, so was Jesus of Nazareth “if thine enemy smites thee turn the other cheek”. Some people believe this to be a reference to using the opposite hand to that of the enemy and gaining advantage through unexpectedness in a fight or battle. Ancient Egyptian religion contained somewhat the power of the Pharaohs’ by the stories and beliefs of the after-world where the heart would be weighed and deeds judged before deciding if the Pharaoh would be admitted to live forever. In our family, and I am sure many others, there is a warning cry used when children are small and have little understanding of language when danger is present.
    Today we can see in animal studies how some animals are conditioned, programmed, whatever word you choose to describe the process of learning to live within their own society, some having higher status and privilege than others. An example of this is priority of access to food. NLP. therefore I think will be different things to different people just as the ingredients for a meal can be used to produce a different effect, tomatoes, peppers, onions, carrots and beetroot can make a salad or a soup depending on the whim and needs of the people whom the meal is to serve. The same principle applies to NLP.
    Politicians who have a passing aquaintance with NLP and assertivenes must be convinced of the old adage that if you repeat something often enough it will be believed.

  3. GrahamJ on 3rd August 2010 at 11:03 PM

    Yesterday, someone referred me to an on-line article which suggested that NLP involved hypnotism, hand gestures and eye contact as a means of seduction. As we say in South Africa: yes, no, well, fine.

    I imagine that you, as a trainer, must have come across many people who have attended your courses and workshops with a lot of cynicism about what you were teaching, and they were only with you because their companies obliged them to be so. I imagine, also, that many of them derived huge benefit. It would be interesting to hear about their views of NLP.

  4. Tudor Barker on 7th August 2010 at 6:53 PM

    As someone who over the years has spent considerable time at Pegasus NLP workshops I have witnessed a number of people that were totally sceptical about NLP or anything to do with NLP (myself included).

    I can only recall 2 people who left the courses as they felt they weren’t getting what they wanted from the course, I have however witnessed many people who were seduced by Reg’s unique take on NLP and probably use techniques shared during the workshops to this day.

    Slip the fiver in the post Reg :-))

  5. Reg on 7th August 2010 at 8:13 PM

    Hi – apologies for no responses to the comments. It’s been a testing and, eventually, a sad time (though, in retrospect an inspiring time, too.) I may do an article on this at a much later stage).

    So I’ll in order of comment received.

    Tudor: yes, any methodology that is as powerful and effective as NLP is open to misuse and abuse – and can attracts strange and ‘interesting’ people.

    Nothing we can do about that in the world at large – although in our courses we have a number of built-in safeguards aimed at ensuring only those with the highest standards receive Pegasus NLP certification as a Practitioner of NLP.

    Not foolproof, if course, but a lot better than nothing at all.

  6. Reg on 7th August 2010 at 8:33 PM

    Margaret: lots of interesting points in your comment, thanks.

    I did not contact the lady in question. ltimately through the blog and newsletter the article will reach a lot more people than the newsheet she writes for. Journalists (and bloggers) have a duty to their readership to check their facts – she did not.

    I believe that the key thing with the NLP Eye Movements is not to approach them from some sort of Proven Truth stance. NLP is “the study of Subjective Experience” rather than a search for objective truch or proven fact.

    The standard directions may have a correlation with hempspherical dominance but that’s not the starting point. This is ‘what is that person in front of me doing inside when they look in this direction?’

    They didn’t do much research in formulating the early versions of NLP. Merely observed people. Hence calling it “the study of subjective experience”.

    Even if, for example, Jean and twenty others were making pictures when they looked in a particular direction they didn’t automatically assume that this was Truth. Everyone has the freedom to do it their way – and we as NLPers have the duty to calibrate, or figure out, what each individual we meet is doing. This is what ‘modelling’ is about.

    NLP is a methodology and an attitude that was developed in the early to mid-seventies. But a lot of the pieces that were asembled in the NLP methodology have origins much earlier> Obvious examples are Milton Erickson’s language paterns, Virginia Satir’s methods, the stimulus-response paterns of the early Nehaviourists, the ‘parts’ integration methods of Fritz Perls, etc etc.

    I do like your final point “if you repeat something often enough it will be believed…” – which also proves my point about the Lie Detector Myth.

  7. Reg on 7th August 2010 at 8:42 PM

    Graham & Tudor(2): Almost everyone who attends our public NLP courses is there because they want to be there – and many are self financing. So they’ll have carefully researched the field before making the very wise (!) choice in attending a Pegasus NLP begin_of_the_skype_highlighting     end_of_the_skype_highlighting course.

    That said many corporate trainings have ‘conscriptees’ who have been told to attend. And, as with all wise corporate trainers, our team will address such issues at the outset.

    To date my all-time favourite “I don’t want” demand from such a conscriptee was “No kaftan speak, please” which, I thought, most eloquently described a lot of trainers (NLP or otherwise!)

    Most conscriptees usually perk up and come on board when we show them the value of what they are learning in all areas of their lives rather than just in their working capacity.

    Incidentally, we have a money back guarantee on all of our public courses. In 11 years 4 people (2 of this number were a couple) have requested and received a full refund. 🙂

  8. Tudor Barker on 7th August 2010 at 10:04 PM

    What has always impressed me Reg:

    Is that you grow with each course. Even when I was totally sceptical about the whole NLP thing, I noticed your ability to take criticism and use it to empower whatever it was you were doing at the time without defensiveness or rancour, sure, sometimes you stumbled but even then there was a gain at the end.

    That is a skill well worth emulating, and the small but increasing amount that I have been able to progress in that area, the greater the reward.