This article deals with a section of the report (referred to here as the EHPR) edited by Daniel Druckman and John Swets for the Committee on Techniques for the Enhancement of Human Performance, assembled by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences at the request of the Army Research Institute. The members of the 14-strong ommittee first met in June 1985, and six more times over the next two years.
Contrary to popular belief, the entire committee did not investigate every technique that came up for scrutiny. Instead they each belonged to one or more of 10 subcommittees, most of which had only two, three or four members. In this respect, the Subcommittee on Influence, which did investigate "NLP", had more members than any other subcommittee, five in total (EHPR*, 1988. Page vii).
(* I have been advised by Dr Druckman that all five members of the subcommittee were involved in the investigation of "NLP" (see below), and each had a hand in writing Chapter 8 of the report, which includes the section on "Neurolinguistic [sic] Programming" (EHPR, pages 138-149). After contacting all of the surviving members of that subcommittee, however, it appears that the precise authorship of the relevant chapter in the EHP report is far from clear. Whilst all five members of the subcommittee were involved in the discussions that took place prior to the preparation of the chapter, no claim is made here that any particular individual on the list, other than the subcommittee Chair, the late Professor Jerome Singer, was an active contributor to the writing of the material reviewed in this article.)
*** The Short Version ***
Please note - the first five names indicate the members of the subcommittee which investigated "NeuroLinguistic Programming" [sic]. It does not imply actual authorship of the report - see above.
(Status, at time of publication)
A further five authors prepared two "background papers" which were available to committee members. The authors were (in alphabetical order):
Jennifer Crocker: Associate Professor of Psychology, State University of New York, Buffalo.
Note: The Chapter containing the comments on NeuroLinguistic [sic] Programming can be read in full here:
The background papers are also available online, read only, here:
http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=786 (Pruitt et al)
http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=779&page=18 (Harris and Rosenthal)
Nature of criticism:
Theory and Assumptions
Cognitive processes are represented by sensory systems or imagery that is visual, auditory or kinesthetic. These are referred to as a client's preferred representational system (PRS). The PRS is the "deep structure" of a client's thought processes and is reflected in such "surface structure" clues as eye movements and predicate use. Knowledge about a client's PRS enables a counselor to speak the client's language, a process that enhances empathy and influence.
Matching on verbal (preferred predicates) and nonverbal (eye movements) dimensions.
Tasks and Designs
Interviews, counseling, analogue counseling interviews. Experiments designed to evaluate the PRS and effects of matching on perceptions.
Language style, poerceptions of interviewer or counselor, relaxation and rapport, accommodative behaviors.
Examples of Results
(1) Evidence for a PRS is weak; correlations among alternative measures are low; (2) evidence for matching on preferred predicates [sic] is only weak; and (3) matching on all predicates produces significant effects on perceptions.
Potentially more effective vertical (and horizontal) communication, modeling experts as a training strategy..
Empathetic verbal responding may underlie effects obtained for matching per se. Two parts of the technique are matching and modeling: the former is one of several influence strategies that may well produce effects; the latter is a possible basis for enhanced motor or cognitive performance.
With the exception of the "Comments", all of this material - including the errors - could be derived from Sharpley's 1984 article without referring to any other source. Indeed, the initial paragraph (Theory and Assumptions) is little more than a slightly edited version of the material in column 2 on page 238 of Sharpley's article.
Both the author(s) of Chapter 8, and the authors of the two background papers, Matching and Other Influencing Strategies (Pruitt, Crocker and Hanes (pages 25-29 and point 5 on page 68); and Interpersonal Expectancy Effects and Human Performance Research (Harris and Rosenthal (pages 18-26) - insofar as the papers directly relate to the FoNLP - also seem to have relied very heavily on the accuracy of Sharpley's 1984 review. The EHP report does make a few good points, but in the main, and given that Sharpley's review failed to provide an accurate picture of the FoNLP, this report and the relevant background papers share the same shortcomings.
Although the subcommittee members are said to have interviewed Richard Bandler in person, and attended a "Workshop on NLP techniques" run by someone named Robert Klaus (possibly a consultant to the US Army?) - both in July 1986 - the report came up with very little of any consequence, and there is certainly not enough accurate material to warrant the notion that this is a useful resource.
*** End of Short Version ***
*** 'Director's Cut' ***
Basic Features of NLP [sic]
(EHP report subheading)
In the Preface to this report, we are assured that:
The 14 members of the [Committee on Techniques for the Enhancement of Human Performance] were appointed for their expertise in areas related to the techniques examined.
Yet various comments on "NLP" call into question the degree to which even the most basic research was carried out. For example, in the chapter on Findings and Conclusions there is a statement that:
The committee finds no scientific evidence to support the claim that neurolinguistic [sic] programming is an effective strategy for exerting influence.
Which is an interesting observation given that Sharpley's article of 1984 includes the observation that:
... if NLP [sic] is suggesting that counselors who demonstrate high levels of reflection will be more effective than those who do not, then little new is being said. If NLP [sic] seeks to promote empathetic responses from counselors, then scales designed to measure empathy ought to, and do, show this (e.g., Hammer, 1983)."
In other words, if I've understood Sharpley correctly, he was saying that Hammer's research shows that what they were calling "NLP" was pretty much a bog standard procedure for creating rapport - a key requisite for "exerting influence". Whilst this is not true of "NLP" (which is a specific modelling technique and nothing else), it is certainly the case that identifying a person's PRSs and matching their use of predicates are steps in one of the FoNLP processes for creating and maintaining rapport.
And once we come to the main section on "NLP" things get even more confused.
At the core of NLP is the belief that, when people are engaged in activities, they are also making use of a representational system; that is, they are using an internal representation of the materials they are involved with, such as a conversation, a rifle shot, a spelling task. ... The basic NLP assumption is that a person will be most influenced by messages involving whatever representational system he or she is employing at the moment.
Speaking personally, I had thought that a belief was a viewpoint that lacked supporting evidence. Yet the five main senses are common knowledge. Is there any doubt that, unless a person has been injured or is physically impaired, they will have and use five senses to collect information - sight, hearing, feelings, smell and taste? Does the human brain not contain identifiable areas which deal with input via the five senses? Where, then, is the "belief"?
And in any case, the statement does not accurately reflect the relevant statement made ten years earlier by the co-creators of the FoNLP:
Our claim is that you are using all [representational] systems all the time. In a particular context you will be aware of one system more than another. I assume that when you play athletics or make love, you have a lot of kinesthetic sensitivity. When you are reading or watching a movie, you have a lot of visual consciousness.
To anyone not already familiar with the FoNLP the differences between the two quotes may seem quite minor. In practice, however, the difference is the difference between copying a statement from some other source - and making a statement based on genuine understanding of the subject under discussion.
The Preferred Representational Systems Misunderstood
Unfortunately this understanding soon gives way to more incomprehension. Thus the next paragraph starts with the claim that:
NLP descriptions suggest that each person be characterised by the system he or she is most likely to use, called a Preferred Representational System (PRS).
This is clearly a misunderstanding of the 1976 description of the PRS, despite the fact that subject of PRSs is discussed and clarified in Bandler and Grinder (1979), especially the influence of context on the way people switch between what might be called CPRSs (currently or contextually preferred representational system(s)).
You can shift from one [preferred representational system] to the other. There are contextual markers that allow you to shift from one strategy to another and use different sequences. There's nothing forced about that.
And the next few paragraphs the authors compound the errors, over and over again:
NLP postulates six representational systems; constructing of visual images, remembering of [sic] visual images, constructing of auditory images, remembering of [sic] auditory images, attending to kinesthetic sensations, and holding internal dialogues.
Going by comments in the book The Magic of NLP Demystified (Byron and Pucelik (1981) there were indeed six representational systems in the original model - visual, auditory, kinesthetic, olfactory (smell), gustatory (taste) and auditory digital (sometimes known as self-talk). However, whilst auditory digital remained a part of the eye accessing cues model, it was dropped from the list of representational systems quite early on, so by the time Neuro-Linguistic Programming, Volume 1 appeared, in 1980, the model had been reduced to what was termed a "four tuple", consisting of visual, auditory, kinesthetic, plus olfactory and gustatory as a joint system. Later on smell and taste were separated again to create the current "five tuple" model: visual, auditory, kinesthetic, olfactory and gustatory - usually identified by their initial letters, and jointly as VAKOG.
What's particularly strange about the version of the model presented in Enhancing Human Performance (page 139) is that it is out of step with all three of the authentic models. In the first place the report writer(s)'s version ignores the removal of auditory digital (which occurred in the late 1970s) and secondly it ignores the fact that Kinesthetic, Smell and Taste are each a representational system in their own right.
Don't Follow the Leader - He's Lost, too
At this point some readers may already have guessed what had so confused the report writer(s). So here's the diagram featured in the report:
(EHPR, 1988. Page 139)
Yes indeed, this is not a model of the representational systems at all - it's the "standard" diagram showing 'Visual accessing cues for a "normally organized" right-handed person' (Bandler and Grinder 1978/1979). In other words, the report writer(s) made exactly the same error as Sharpley, 1987. Page 104). And they didn't stop there. Remember the claim that:
NLP descriptions suggest that each person can be characterized by the sysyem he or she is most likely to use, called a Preferred Representational System (PRS)
This was about ten years out-of-date, in 1988, though it is consistent with:
The system that an individual uses most of the time is termed the Preferred Representational System (PRS)
Which was itself at least 5-6 years out-of-date when it was written. The problem is that whoever who put these comments together was apparently unable to grasp the relatively simple concept of PRSs. Thus the report reads:
Although the basic features [of "NLP"] have remained stable from exposition to exposition, the emphasis or importance of particular aspects varies from description to description, sometimes in a contradictory manner. For example, PRS is [sic] prominently placed in Frogs into Princes (Stevens, 1979) and Structure of Magic (Bandler and Grinder, 1975), two early descriptions.
Whilst it is true that Frogs into Princes does a great deal to clarify the nature of PRSs, it isn't clear where the alleged contradiction comes in. : Howover, the report writers go on to say:
At a meeting with Richard Bandler in Santa Cruz, California, on July 0, 1986, the influence subcommittee ... was informed that PRS [sic] was no longer considered and important component.&nbdp; He said that NLP had been revised, and he provided the committee with two books, Neuro-Linguistic Programming, volume 1 [sic], The Study of the Stucture of Subjective Experience (Dilts et al., 1980) and Roots of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (Dilts, 1983)
Which all seems very clear-cut, were it not for the fact that (a) to reduce the emphasis on something is surely a modification rather than a contradiction, and (b) it is by no means certain - given all the other errors in the report - that the writer(s) actually understood what Bandler was telling them. Especially since there is no sign, even today, that the value of determining some's PRSs, as part of one of the rapport-creating processes, has ever been significantly reduced.
In fact there were some modifications - but no more than might be expected during the early development of a quite wide-ranging and complex set of ideas.
A Tenuous Relationship
The next paragraph is in like manner far less substantial in the importance of its claims than might seem to be the case. In part this relates to the so-called "scientific underpinnings", which are dealt with in more detail in the next section, and partly (again) because of the report writer(s) apparent inability to take in anything which was out of kilter with their existing ideas.
... although this theory [regarding the existence of representational systems] is applicable to right-handed persons only.
Which appears in the EHP report as:
The basis for the relation of eye movements to representational systems rests on assumptions about laterality of brain function and use of language, in particular the postulate that the speech center for right-handed people is located in the left cerebral hemisphere. This is present in all of the NLP source books. The implication is that standard NLP analysis applies primarily or exclusively to right-handed people.
But what actually revidence is there for these claims? And what is its influence?
This was, judging by the report writer(s)' comments, another area of serious confusion. Although the main coverage of the subject takes up only two paragraphs (20 lines) of the report, the text contains a number of errors indicating that, here again, the report writer(s) had little or no understanding of the material they were allegedly addressing:
NLP is a system for modeling a person's behavior and thought processes in relation to a specific topic or behavior.
On the face of it, this appears to be a fairly accurate description. NLP is indeed a specific modelling technique, but as written here there is already room for doubt about the rest of the description. How, one wonders, did the report writer(s) believe that a person's thought processes might be modelled?
As such it has two main focuses, one more highly developed than the other.
Is this supposed to mean that "a system for modeling a person's behavior and thought process ... has two main focuses"? Who, apart from the writer(s) of the report, says so? What is their evidence - other than their own subjective opinion?
The focus receiving most attention has been the marketing of NLP as a set of techniques for interpersonal competence, with respect to influence, and as a psychotherapeutic system or adjunct.
Spot the deliberate mistakes:
The use of NLP requires that the practitioner do a very restricted and limited sort of modeling: the tracking of a target individual's representational systems on a continuing basis and the use of controlled language and cues to modify and shape the target's thoughts, feelings, and opinions. Within the NLP system, this function can be carried out by persons who have passed the two lower levels of certified NLP training, Practitioner and Master Practitioner.
And thus, in just one sentence, the report writer(s) totally undermined any claim that they were conducting a fair and efficient investigation into the authentic FoNLP:
So much, then, for the report writer(s) claim to have understood "NLP modelling". And when combined with the misrepresentation of the PRS concept, and the lack of understanding of how it had been updated since its original inception must surely give us little or no reason to regard the FoNLP-related parts of the report with any confidence.
"NLP's" Achilles Heel
In the section on Internal Consistency of NLP [sic] the report writer(s) do at last manage to identify one of the FoNLPs "Achilles Heels", in this case as "presented in most detailed fashion in the Roots of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (Dilts, 1983)".
According to the EHP report:
The proponents of NLP do not put forward their procedures as scientific theory, nor do they regard their models of processing systems as a variety of cognitive psychology. ... They do present both scientific support for the bases of their assertions and some quasi-experimental evidence for some of the stated relationships. The scientific underpinnings are presented in most detailed fashion in the Roots of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (Dilts, 1983).
It should be noted that, although the report writer(s) refer to "proponents" (plural), their only evidence relates to a single book by Robert Dilts. Although the book was presented to the committee by Richard Bandler, this must be considered in light of the statement in Bandler and Grinder (1978/1979):
As modelers, we're not interested in whether what we offer you is true or not, whether it's accurate or whether it can be neurologically proven to be accurate, an actual representation of the world. We're only interested in what works.
To put it nicely, there are a number of basic errors in Dilts' work where it touches on human neurology. Fortunately, however, as we've already seen, the development of NLP and the NLP-related techniques was not based upon any of the neurological elements that Dilts, or Bandler or Grinder discussed at one time or another in their work. For example, when the report writer(s) commented that:
The fact that there are different types of neurons or that the brain is organized hierarchically in no way implies that one who is right-handed looks up and to the left when recalling visual images."
their observation was correct, but it didn't reflect any claim made by Bandler or Grinder or how they had arrived at their own ideas on the "eye accessung cues". So the comment was clearly irrelevant (as were the other five points on pages 141-142).
Back to the Leader - and He's Still Lost
There's a well-worn saying: When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. Perhaps it's quite a new saying, or maybe the report writer(s) just didn't care. Because at this point they just kept digging and digging.
Most of the studies testing one or another aspect of NLP [sic] have been concerned with the accuracy of the concept of representational systems ... There are approximately 20 such studies, reviewed both in the published literature (Sharpley, 1984) and in papers prepared for the committee by Harris and Rosenthal and by Dean G. Pruitt, Jennifer Crocker, and Deborah Hanes (Appendix B).
Or not, as the case happens to be. In fact this is another dead giveaway regarding the lack of research behind this section of the report, because:
And that's not the end of the matter. The report writer(s) go on to say:
Sharpley's (1984) meta-analysis of these studies and Harris and Rosenthal's discussion of this meta-analysis conclude that there is no effect. Since the emphasis on the Preferred Representational System (as distinguished from the representational system currently in use) ...
In reality neither Sharpley (1984) nor Harris and Rosenthal said that matching someone's PRS had "no effect". In fact both reports picked up on the fact that Hammer's study - in which he used a "track and match" approach had had a measurable, supportive result.
This was fairly crucial since, had it been openly acknowledged, the information would have invalidated both Sharpley's so-called "meta-analysis" and virtually all of the research he considered.
Anyway, by the time the report writer(s) got on to what they described as "Unintended Consequences of NLP" their comments had descended into complete nonsense:
For example, someone trained in NLP who conscientiously practices it in interaction with another person is engaging in a series of behaviors with the following characteristics. The NLP practitioner is maintaining eye contact and is giving complete attention to the other person; is coding the verbal output of the other person in an overt, analytic manner; is monitoring his or her own verbal output (censoring it and recoding it as a prelude to an attempted predicate, or representational system, match); and is letting the other person's choice of topics and metaphors structure the conversation, reacting to them rather than initiating new directions in the interchange.
Well. that's "NLP" according to the alleged experts. Here's what really takes place:
In order to enhance rapport an NLP practitioner may track and match the modality(s) of the other person's use of sensory predicates. they will only pay attention to the other person's eye movements when they want to understand what sequence of sensory accesses that person uses when they are thinking about a particular topic.
It's All Too Much
At this point I am going to take the unusual step of terminating my evaluation before discussing all of the relevant criticisms. At least for the time being.
The other study derived a model of rifle shooting from an NLP analysis of expert shooters and created a training program for Army recruits based on it. A comparison of the NLP-derived regimen with a traditional training regimen yielded no differences.
Or to put it another way, a short-term modelling project conducted by a small group of non-miltary personnel produced a rifle-shooting training program that was just as effective as the US Army's own "traditional" training program that had been developed over a number of decades!
We have received subjective, informal reports from people who have received NLP training. Some reports are negative with respect to the efficacy and usefulness of NLP, but the majority are from satisfied trainees who believe that NLP [sic] has improved their communication skills and made them more effective in exercising personal influence. Whilst personal feelings of change are not necessarily a reliable guide to program efficacy, they do suggest that the NLP system may be effective in increasing self-confidence in its trainees.
Just a moment. If a training program increases self-confidence, isn't that "an effect"? That is, exactly what Sharpley (1984) and Harris and Rosenthal (1987) are supposed to have reported "NLP" didn't have?
I'm all in favour of looking at both sides of the coin in any discussion, but surely such arguments should have some kind of basis in reality?
No doubt the report writer(s) honestly believed that they had a realistic grasp of the FoNLP. That is to say, I cannot imagine why they would have bothered to write the material related to "NeuroLinguistic Programming" if they knew was so extensively flawed. But in this case, just believing wasn't enough.
Even the subsection on NLP as a Modeling System (where the text does at least refer to "The use of NLP as a modeling tool" (page 146)), ends up as a veritable "cracked record".
In practice, then, this investigation and subsequent report demonstrate the seemingly total disregard for adequate research that has reduced every piece of academic criticism reviewed in the FAQ #28 Project thus far (July, 2010) to a pointless exercise in wasting paper.
Bandler, R. and Grinder, J. (1978/1979), Frogs into Princes. Real People Press, Moab, Utah.
Dilts, R.B. Neuro-Linguistic Programming: Volume 1 (1980). Meta Publications, Capitola, California.
Dilts, R.B. Roots of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (1983). Meta Publications, Cupertino, California.
Einspruch, E. L. and Forman, B. D. (1985). Observations concerning research literature on Neurolinguistic [sic] Programming. Journal of Counseling Psychology, Vol. 32, No. 4, pages 589-596.
Hammer, A. (1983). Matching perceptual predicates: Effect on perceived empathy in a counseling analogue. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 30, 172-179.
Harris, M.J. and Rosenthal, R. (1987). Interpersonal Expectancy Effects and Human Performance Research. Pages 19-26.
Pruitt, D.G., Crocker, J. and Hanes, D. (198x). Matching and Other Influence Strategies. Accessed online on April 15, 2010 at: http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=786
Sharpley, C. (1984), Managing Conflict: The Curious Case of Neuro-Linguistic Programming, in P. Hancock and M. Tyler (eds), Managing Everyday Life. London: Palgrave.
Andy Bradbury can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org