The Case of the Confused Committee



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 label "NLP" is used to indicate that the text is referring to whatever it was the report writer(s) thought "NLP" was about, as distinct from an accurate representation of the FoNLP (field of NLP.)

*** 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)
Gerald Davison:   Professor of Psychology at the University of Southern California.
Daniel Druckman:   Holder of a Ph.D. in social psychology, Study Director of the Committee on Techniques for the Enhancement of Human Performance and senior scientist and program manager at Booz, Allen & Hamilton.
Sandra Ann Mobley:   Director of training and development at the Wyatt Company.
Lyman Porter:   Professor of Management and Psychology in the Graduate School of Management at the University of California, Irvine.
Jerome Singer:   Chair of the Subcommittee on Influence.  Professor and Chair of the Department of Medical Psychology at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland.
John Swets:   Chief scientist at Bolt Beranek and Newman, Inc.  Chairman of the main committee and co-editor of the EHP report, with Dr. Druckman.

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.
Deborah Hanes:   State University of New York, Buffalo.
Monica Harries:   Ph.D. candidate, Harvard.
Dean G. Pruitt:   Professor of Psychology, State University of New York, Buffalo.
Robert Rosenthal:   Professor of Psychology, Harvard.

Critical Material:
NeuroLinguistic [sic] Programming, a section in Chapter 8, Social Processes, in D. Druckman and J. Swets (eds), Enhancing Human Performance: Issues, Theories and Techniques (2009). Washington, D.C., National Academy Press. 1988

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: (Pruitt et al)

and here: (Harris and Rosenthal)

Nature of criticism:
1.   The committee finds no scientific evidence to support the claim that neurolinguistic programming [sic] is an effective strategy for exerting influence.
2.   There were no existing evaluations of NLP as a model of expert performance.
(EHPR, 1988.  Pages 21-22)

Some original material, but largely based on previous studies, especially the work - and errors - of Sharpley (1984).  For example, in Appendix A (Summary of Techniques: Theory, Research and Applications), the section on "NeuroLinguistic Programming" reads as follows:

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.

Key Elements

    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.

Performances Assessed

    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.
(EHPR, 1988.  Pages 242-243)

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.
The fact that the report has been cited in numerous other criticisms of "NLP" seems to demonstrate the lack of effective vetting academic psychologists and the like apply to information, about "outsiders", when that information has originated within their own community.

*** 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.
(EHPR, 1988.  page vii)

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.
(EHPR, 1988.  Page 21)

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)."
(Sharpley, 1984.  Page 246)

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.
What is definitely not clear is why this information was apparently overlooked/ignored/rejected in the EHP report.

And once we come to the main section on "NLP" things get even more confused.
Starting with the misspelt section heading - NeuroLinguistic Programming (no hyphen) - the author(s) provide an introduction that lasts only two paragraphs (15 lines) before the text starts to part company with the authentic claims made for the FONLP:

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.
(EHPR, 1988.  Pages 138-139)

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.
(Bandler and Grinder, 1978/1979.  Page 36.  Italics as in the original))

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.
It is all the more strange, then, that the writer(s) managed to get the second part of the statement more or less correct.  Though it it would be more correct to say that we are most likely to consciously notice messages in the same mode as the one we are currently focused on - and thereby most likely to be influenced by those particular messages if, indeed, we are inflenced by anything outside ourselves on a given occasion.

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).
(EHPR, 1988.  Pages 139)

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.
(Bandler and Grinder, 1978/1979.  Page 36)

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.
(EHPR, 1988.  Page 139)

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.
Which means that the EHP description purports to cover not 4, 5 or 6 representational systems, but 8 (eight)!

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)
(EHPR, 1988.  Page 139)

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)
(Sharpley, 1984.  Page 238)

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.
(EHPR, 1988.  Page 140)

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)
(EHPR, 1988.  Page 140)

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 short:

  • Given the report writer(s) confusion over the eye accessing cues chart, it seems unwise to suppose that they necessarily understood what Bandler actually told them,  Most people have a tendency to hear what they expect to hear, especially when they already have fixed ideas on a subject and/or they are unclear about the topic being discussed).
  • Bandler and Grinder worked on what they "noticed" and what they "observed" and what arose out of their modelling activities.  Since they were dealing with an area of study which has no hard and fast boundaries, it is surely quite legitimate that they modified and refined their understanding of various points, based on ongoing observations
  • It is noticeable that the author(s) of this part of the report refer to alleged changes in the "emphasis or importance of particular aspects" of "NLP".  Yet they provide only one example - which seems to be based on a misunderstanding.

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.
Thus, for example, the report writer(s) insisted on clinging to the idea that "NLP" only applied to right-handed people.  Which was in fact another of Sharpley's fantasies, based on the unsupported word of a team of three researchers whose work he reviewed:

... although this theory [regarding the existence of representational systems] is applicable to right-handed persons only.
(Sharpley, 1984.  Page 238.  See also Sharpley, 1987, page 104)

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.
(EHPR, 1988.  Page 140)

But what actually revidence is there for these claims?  And what is its influence?

  • The EHPR report writer(s) argue that the idea of brain laterality (left and right brain having different functions) "is present in all of the NLP source books".  But how much credibility attaches to this claim given that the list of references for the report contains so few authoritative books on the subject?  The following list is of the "source books" available before the EHP report was published.  (By "source books" I mean books which were written in part or as a whole by Bandler and/or Grinder.)  The titles in normal font are the books that appear in the EHPR list of references:
    • The Structure of Magic I (1975)
    • The Patterns of the Hypnotic Techniques of Milton H. Erickson, M.D., Volume 1 (1975)
    • The Structure of Magic II (1976)
    • Changing with Families (1976)
    • The Patterns of the Hypnotic Techniques of Milton H. Erickson, M.D., Volume 2 (1977)
    • Frogs into Princes (1978/1979)
    • Neuro-Linguistic Programming, Volume 1 (1978/1980)
    • Trance-Formations (1981)
    • Reframing (1982)
    • Use Your Brain for a Change (1985)
    Unless the report writers/editors accidentally left some other books out of the list of references it seems that they really had no idea what "all of the NLP source books" said on this or any other topic.
  • In the 1970s and 80s, the "two hemispheres" view of the brain, based on the work of Nobel prize winner Roger Sperry and others, was very widely accepted.  Insofar as Bandler and Grinder may have treated these ideas as having some validity then they were in line with the common understanding, not bucking the trend;
  • And in any case it is not true that any significant part of the NLP-related techniques or concepts relies on notions of a separation of functionality between the left and right hemispheres.
  • Indeed, we might well ask why the report gives any time to these claims when it also states that:

    The implication is that standard NLP analysis applies primarily or exclusively to right-handed people.  This presumption was deemphasized by Bandler, who told the subcommittee that the handedness requirement was no longer considered a restriction on the generality of the NLP model.  The basis for the shift in reliance on hemispheric specificity was not theoretical but pragmatic.  Bandler stated that NLP was a system based on modeling, not theory.
    (EHPR, 1988.  Page 140)

    Yes, he did.  In fact Bandler and Grinder had made those points so emphaticatically back in 1978, ten years before the Enhanced Human Performance report was published, that we must again question whether the report writer(s) actually understood what they were being told in 1986:

    As modelers, we're not interested in whether what we offer you is true or not, whether it's accurate or whether is can be neurologically proven to be accurate, an actual representation of the real world.  We're only interested in what works.
    (Bandler and Grinder, 1978/1979.  Page 18.  Italics as in the original text)

  • What exactly does the phrase "standard NLP analysis" refer to?  If it refers to the diagram on page 139, then the comment is merely stating the obvious.  The diagram was originally labelled as showing cues for 'a "normally organized" right-handed person, so obviously it applies mainly to right-handed people.  But if that implies that left-handed people are excluded then the implication in is the minds of the report writer(s), courtesy of Dr Sharpley (?), courtesy of Gumm, Walker and Day (Sharpley, 1987.  Page 104).
    What Bandler and Grinder actually said, in print, was:

    You will find people who are organized in odd ways.  But even somebody who is organized in a totally different way will be systematic; their eye movements will be systematic for them.  Even the person who looks straight up each time they have a feeling and straight down each time they have a picture, will remain consistent within themselves.
    (Bandler and Grinder, 1978/1979.  Page 27.  Italics as in the original text)


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.
(EHPR, 1988.  Page 140)

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 is always the case in the FoNLP, "meaning depends on context", and as we work our way through this section we shall see that the overall picture has quite a different meaning.  Thus:

As such it has two main focuses, one more highly developed than the other.
(EHPR, 1988.  Page 140)

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.
(EHPR, 1988.  Page 140)

Spot the deliberate mistakes:

  1. At the start of this paragraph "NLP" was "a system for modeling", now it has become "a set of techniques".  Which is it?  In fact "NLP" is a modelling process.  The rest, the "set of techniques", is more accurately described as "the field of NLP (FoNLP)" or "the NLP-related techniques".  The techniques which grew up around the development of the core modelling technique.  This does not seem to have been clearly understood by the report writer(s).
  2. "NLP [is] a psychotherapeutic system or adjunct".  If we were talking about the NLP-related techniques then it would be correct to describe them as techniques for enhancing interactive skills in a whole range of settings - education, business, etc., etc.  Neither NLP itself (modelling technique) not the wider FoNLP is, or ever has been, a "psychotherapeutic system".  Once again the report writer(s) seem to have been led astray by Sharpley's flawed analysis (1984).

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.
(EHPR, 1988.  Page 141)

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:

  1. NLP is a specific modelling technique.  As it stands the first part of the first sentence actually reads "The use of modeling requires that the practitioner do a very restricted and limited sort of modeling", or "The use of NLP requires that the practitioner do a very restricted and limited sort of NLP".  Neither of which are accurate.
  2. Further evidence of the report writer(s) lack of understanding of the NLP technique is the phrase "very restricted and limited".  Every able-bodied person in the world, and many people less fortunately situated, have used "NLP modelling", though without knowing it, and without even knowing it exists.  Because what we're talking about is, in all important respects, the modelling process we use, as infants, when learning to walk and talk, etc.
    If those activities are "very restricted and limited" applications of modelling then the report writer(s) description is valid.  Otherwise the report writer(s) comment is yet more misinformation.
  3. The claim that "The use of NLP requires ... the tracking of a target individual's representational systems on a continuing basis" reflects the same problem as was made in the last point, since it is quite simply wrong.
    A vital feature of "NLP modelling" is that it eschews any analytical or evaluative element.  If the modeller is consciously "tracking ... a target individual's representational systems", continuously or otherwise, then they are most certainly not using the authentic "NLP modelling" process.
  4. Likewise the phrase "and the use of controlled language and cues to modify and shape the target's thoughts, feelings, and opinions" has absolutely nothing to do with "NLP modelling".  The writer(s) is/are in fact confusing a rapport generating technique with the modelling technique!
  5. As for the last claim, and even allowing that there were far fewer books on the FoNLP than there are now, as has already been noted, infants the world over have been using the "NLP modelling" technique to learn skills such as walking and talking since time immemorial.  And as far as I know, not one of them has had an NLP-related Practitioner or Master Practitioner's certificate.

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)".
(This is a collection of material written in the mid-late 1970s and gathered together for publication several years later.  For example, Part 1 was written in 1976, Part 2 in 1977, and so on.  Some sections are not dated.)

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).
(EHPR, 1988.  Page 141)

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.
(Bandler and Grinder, 1978/1979.  Page 18)

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."
(EHPR, 1988.  Page 142)

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).
(EHPR, 1988.  Page 142)

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:

  • Far from being concerned with any kind of accuracy, almost all of the researchers, and Sharpley, managed to completely misunderstand the genuine claims made the co-creators of the FoNLP, especially the expanded definition of preferred representational systems (PRSs) (referred to in Grinder and Bandler (1976) under the heading Identifying the Most Highly Valued Representational System) set out in Frogs into Princes (Bandler and Grinder, 1978/1979.  Pages 28, 34, 36, etc.).
    In other words, all of the research material reviewed by Sharpley was quite simply wrong, bar two or three examples.  And all of this information was available approximately five years befor Sharpley's first article was accepted for publication.
  • There were never "approximately 20 such studies".  Sharpley's 1984 article listed 15.  In the same year, two faculty members from the University of Miami, "identified 39 reports of empirical studies ... from 1975 to April 1984.&nsbp; Twenty-four of these artuicles were not reviewed by Sharpley" (Einspruch and Forman, 1985.  Page 590).
    In 1986, Sharpley submitted a second article in which he assembled 44 studies, 37 of the studies listed by Einspruch and Forman plus 7 more of his own.
    (In a glorious stroke of irony, Sharpley who, going by his articles and more recent comments in e-mails addressed to myself, had almost no accurate understanding of the FoNLP, removed the two studies from Einspruch and Forman's list on the grounds that "they did not directly assess a principle or procedure from NLP [sic]".)
    Finally, Dr Michael Heap delivered a presentation in 1987, which then became the basis for articles published in 1988, 1989 and 2008, in which he reviewed just over 60 such studies, though only on the basis of the contents of their abstracts.
  • In practice the "background papers" prepared for the subcommittee: Interpersonal Expectancy Effects and Human Performance Research, Harris, M.J. and Rosenthal, R., and Matching and Other Influence Strategies, Pruitt, D.J., Crocker, J. and Hanes D., were - in their attempted treatment of Neuro-Linguistic Programming - were little more than clones of Sharpley's 1984 review.  Complete with many of Sharpley's important errors.
  • Most significantly, given that this was supposedly a science-based study, neither of the background papers actually quoted any of the claims that were allegedly under investigation.  Indeed, in the whole of the Harris and Rosenthal comments only the opening sentence contained any kind of reference to Bandler and Grinder's work: "Neurolinguistic programming (NLP) was formulated by Bandler and Grinder (1975, 1979) with the aim of improving personal communication ..." (Harris and Rosenthal, 1988.  Page 18).  Yet even with these two citations in the text we can't be sure what the authors are referring to, since not a single book by Bandler and/or Grinder was included in the relevant list of references.  In fact no books on NLP are included in the list of references.  (Nor is there evidence that anyone on the subcommittee questioned the ommission.)

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) ...
(EHPR, 1988.  Page 142)

Oh really?

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.
On a similar note is is perhaps of some importance that the report writer(s) did NOT report Harris and Rosenthal's finding that if Hammer's approach was used then it was simply not possible to carry out a genuinely scientific examination of predicate matching.  This, they explained, was because the experimenter would always be responding to the subject rather than leading them, so interviews couldn't be carried out according to the usual single or double blind procedure.

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.
(EHPR, 1988.  Pages 145-146)

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.
The rest of the report writer(s) version is a fantasy.

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.
There are nearly six more pages of the report directed specifically at what the report writer(s) thought of as "NLP" - and they make no more sense than the material I've already covered.  For example, taking the claim that "NLP" has "no effect" (page 142), how, then, do we explain passages like:

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.
(EHPR, 1988.  Page 143)

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!

Or again:

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.
(EHPR, 1988.  Page 144)

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.
In practice, this section of the Enhancing Human Performance report contains so many half-truths, red herrings and downright inaccuracies that the material is effectively useless as an evaluation of the authentic FoNLP.  The only thing that can be said of it with any honesty is that it demonstrates an almost complete lack of accurate knowledge of the subject allegedly being discussed.

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".
Because of errors like the claim that: "NLP practitioners ... have not addressed the need for model validation at all" (page 147)- which presumably means that the report writer(s) didn't know enough about the modelling process to realise that it already included a condition that the modeller should, at intervals, test their own performance against that of the person being modelled.  Moreover, the modelling process is not considered to be complete until the modeller is able to demonstrate at least the same measure of ability, in the skill being modelled, as the exemplar.  That is, the requirement the report writer(s) claimed was missing was actually a built-in feature of the process!  This one point alone was sufficient to answer maby of the caveats and questions on this subject raised by the report writer(s).

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.
(Frogs into Princes, though published in 1979, was an edited transcript of a seminar held in March, 1978.  My thanks to Steve Andreas for this information.)

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.
Accessed online on April 15, 2010 at:

Pruitt, D.G., Crocker, J. and Hanes, D. (198x).  Matching and Other Influence Strategies.  Accessed online on April 15, 2010 at:

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:

End of Site Stats Code --> And how should we interpret their claim in light of Bandler and Grinder's very unambiguous statement that:

Our claim is that you are using all systems all of the time.
(Bandler and Grinder, 1978/1979, page 36.  Italics as in the original)