Once again, a week in which one of those “Truths” that I have grown up with has been knocked off its perch.  I seem to be noticing this more often these days, which on the one hand is exciting, but one the other could be seen as troubling.  I conclude that it is simply that I am getting older, and obviously haven’t updated my research often enough!

Liar or not? You decide.

So this week’s “Truth” is the one they sell you on pretty well any NLP-based training courseNLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) has a huge following worldwide, and to some it exerts a powerful hold akin to some form of religion, it seems to me.  It deals with how to consciously gain influence and build relationships with others using various conscious techniques, one of which is to try and work out how the mind of the other person processes information based on studying their eye movements.

You may well have come across the theory that you can tell if someone is lying based  on where their eyes go when they are talking about a given subject.  Supposedly if you are right handed and look to your right, you are visualising a constructed memory (and thus lying).  If you look to the left you are visualising an actual memory (so telling the truth).

Research led by Dr Caroline Watt at Edinburgh University has led her to conclude that this theory does not hold water.  What I find extraordinary is that, to quote her research:

No previous research has properly examined the validity of a notion that has received widespread acceptance among the public.”

How come it is so widely accepted, not least by thousands of fee-paying training consultants who want to become licensed practitioners in NLP? A subject for another Blog, I think.

Amongst other things her team studied film of relatives of missing people who were appealing to the public for information.  They found no correlation between eye movements and whether or not they were subsequently proved to have been lying.

That’s a pity, actually, because I look to my left when I explain things, whether or not they are true.  So if you were an NLP expert you would have me down, until now, as a trustworthy individual, and now I am going to have to work harder to get you to trust me!  Thanks very much, Dr Watt.

Thinking about this for a bit longer than I have thus far in my life, I now have a question which I wish I’d asked the NLP guru who got me onto this eye movement thing.  If this theory works, in order to be able to apply it confidently you would need to know whether they are right or left handed, would you not?  How does that work then?  Get them to sign something for you within the first few moments of the dialogue?

“Ah, Jimmy, very nice to meet you.  Before we go any further, would you mind signing this blank piece of paper so I can check your handedness?  I find it very helpful in building relationships and working out whether or not you are a liar.”

Perhaps not.  I think my message today is, as with everything, and especially if it comes from a business skills trainer like myself, to take it with a healthy dose of salt (unless you’re David Kanigan – a joke which only he or his many loyal Blog followers  would appreciate).