That NLP Lie-Detector myth (1)

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Does NLP have a lie-detector technique?

Can you use NLP to tell if someone is lying?

No, you cannot!

Yet this is one of the common myths about NLP i.e. that you can use it to tell if someone is lying – simply by watching their eyes

And the belief that you can use the NLP Eye Movement Patterns as a sort of ‘instant lie detector’ is something that comes up in just about every NLP Core Skills workshop that we run.

Participants will have read about it on the net, or heard about it from friends or, sadly, been taught this in an NLP workshop.

‘Watch their eyes’

The myth is based on the belief that, if you ask someone to think about something they’ve experienced, they ‘should’:

  • Look up to their left if they are genuinely remembering the event
  • Look up to their right if they are making up an image i.e. if they are inventing or ‘making up’ a scenario rather than remembering a real event.

Sounds good and, yes, this can be the case for some people… (Although, even for these people there will be times when they will not follow this pattern consistently.)

People do things their own way

But many people will have their own way of moving their eyes which can be quite different from the traditional NLP hypothesis. And still other people will appear to do their remembering on the ‘made up’ side. They will usually have a different and less detailed visual memory.

(Incidentally, this isn’t just my observation – it was mentioned in the late 1970′ by Grinder and Bandler in the book Frogs into Princes – the first easy-to-read NLP book. It’s now a little dated, but is excellent and well worth reading… a few times!)

So the ‘NLP Lie Detector’ technique doesn’t work

  • With people who naturally ‘remember’ on the ‘made up’ side
  • Or who tend to vary the way they move their eyes depending on the situation or context
  • Or for people who, rather than looking up to the left or the right, look straight ahead and visualise by defocusing and projecting their images into the space around them.

Trivialising NLP

Lots of people like to over simplify NLP and reduce it to a series of techniques such as the Seduction Technique or the Lie-Detector Technique.

For my part, I like to think that NLP can survive this trivialisation. Because, used with respect for the other person, NLP can be a wonderful aid to communication and to relating with and to engaging with other people.

It’s sad to see NLP being used

  • As a technique
  • As a way of overpowering people
  • As a way of manipulating people
  • As a way of boosting one’s own ego at the expense of other people, etc.

It’s sad for NLP – and it’s sad for the people who are using it in this way. And, incidentally, for those who consider “lie detecting” to be a serious and worthwhile application of NLP – and who are prepared to invest a reasonable amount of time practising their NLP skills – there are far better ways of identifying truth versus untruth than observing how people move their eyes.

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)

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