The eyes have it – or do they?

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What value Eye Accessing Clues? Garry Platt, a Senior Consultant at Woodland Grange views this particular concept, often used in Neuro-Linguistic Programming, as a "half-baked hypothesis" - read on to find out why...

Back in May 2001 I wrote an article for Training Journal entitled; NLP = Neuro Linguistic Programming or No Longer Plausible. The article for those who do not recall or did not read it focussed on some of the claims made by NLP practioners and the models that have been developed and proposed under the umbrella of NLP.

Whilst no model can be expected to work for every body all of the time it is not unreasonable to expect that it will work for some people some of the time. One such model that I believe fails this criteria is the concept of Eye Accessing Cues (EAC), in the original article the typical diagram illustrating the movements of the eye and what they mean was shown:

It is has been emphasised that these eye-accessing movements do not always follow this pattern and that the NLP practioner has to calibrate each individual they work with to be sure of their conclusions.

Using the NLP research database located at I reviewed the then current state of quantative analysis of this model, my findings were that 35 research groups have investigated this theory and when the findings were analysed the following results emerged; 8 of these studies (23%) supported the use and legitimacy of Eye Accessing Cues, the rest 27 (77%) stated that Eye Accessing Cues appeared to have no significant positive or negative impact when utilised in personal interactions.

Then and now, this seemed a fairly damning indictment of this model and its validity, particularly when I considered it in conjunction with my own experience of the process and of people purporting to demonstrate this phenomenon, when in fact it appeared little more than self-delusion on the practioners part, and collusion by the people they working with who had been influenced by being briefed on what eye accessing patterns were, and how they are supposed to operate. Since that publication, I have communicated with different people on this same subject and several criticisms of the article have emerged; some I feel are legitimate and others simply spurious. In this article I would like to address all the arguments that I have encountered which I think are significant and which contend that Eye Accessing Cues have not been proven invalid. I maintain they are in fact a total fabrication without a shred of evidence to support them other than anecdotes and stories and with those you can support just about any position or proposition, which is indeed all that is happening here.

It is claimed that Eye Accessing Cues are a minor aspect of NLP and do not warrant much attention. This may well be true and in fact there are many NLP practioners for whom I have developed a lot of respect who clearly regard EAC as almost an irrelevance. But it is misleading to suggest that in the NLP community at large EAC is considered as insignificant or minor. A visit to any major book shop on the high street with a respectable Business section will reveal a number of books with NLP as their focus. Here is just a selection of five which can be found in my own Waterstones.

1. Introducing NLP – Joseph O’Connor
2. Introducing NLP – Sue Knight
3. NLP The New Technology of Achievement - Steve Andreas & Charles Faulkner
4. Managing with the Power of NLP – David Molden
5. Successful Communication Through NLP – Sally Dimmick

Each of these books contain references and a sizeable sections on Eye Accessing Cues, so whilst some people in the NLP community may relegate EAC to a minor and insignificant role there are still many authors with books in their 2nd and 3rd editions (so presumably readers as well) for whom eye movements and their purported hidden meanings are still of interest or relevance.

The same can be said for organisations providing training in NLP. A review of course syllabus for various NLP programmes shows that Eye Movements still figure in the training and development provided by many deliverers. As examples of this a quick web search restricted to the UK identified all of the following programme providers including eye accessing cues as part of their ‘foundation’, ‘key skills’ or ‘core’ programmes, apparently not so minor for these practioners and teachers of NLP.

EAC as a part of NLP is current and exists today. It may play a major or minor role according to the views of the NLP practioner, but regardless of its relevant significance this is not a credible defence against any criticism of the approach, if it has no validity it has no validity.

Following on from this is the issue of calibration and the analyses of Eye Accessing Cues. The scientific rigour with which some of the testing of this model was undertaken has been brought into doubt. I am convinced that in one instance a particular study in question was indeed a shambles in terms of the reliability with which it was undertaken and its results are worthless. See for a meticulous disembowelment of one particular study by Andy Bradbury an NLP author of some standing.

Several of the research studies referenced in my original article sought to establish whether there were consistent eye pattern movements relating to particular cognitive states i.e. creating visual images, recalling auditory memories and not whether they complied with the model illustrated earlier in this article. This was certainly the case in the Kevin Hogan experiment referenced above, where a major flaw is exposed in the form of questions or statements used which were intended to induce a particular singular psychological state and with it the related eye accessing cue. Consider the following; we ask a subject to ‘Think about the front door to their home and contemplate what colour it is’. We might think that this would induce a recalled visual image, but how do we know this is the case? It might be that the candidate actually remembers an accident when they fell over the door step, so while the subject may be telling us that their door is yellow they are actually accessing a kinaesthetic state. The argument is developed that no questions or statements can reliably produce or induce a state that would allows us to confidently calibrate an individuals EAC’s. In addition it is suggested that only by getting them to delivery an ongoing dialogue of their state might any reliable form of calibration be achieved. It has also been proposed to me from elsewhere that by getting the candidate retrospectively explain their state might we be certain of calibrating their position. The former approach is obviously going to interrupt the very thinking process we are seeking to analyse and consequently is a none starter and just how reliable are individuals in recalling their exact thought processes at any given moment in the past? These issues aside we are left with the not unreasonable conclusion that any results arising from this and other studies with similar flaws would be useless as no reliable analysis was achieved.

So what can be done to induce a particular cognitive state in the subject? What statements or activity will subsequently enable effective calibration? Or what can be done to effectively interpret and analyse eye movements and their associated cognitive state, if they have any relationship at all? And the answer of course is nothing, no such systems currently exist and certainly no reliable and dependable approach is available to achieve this exquisite level of processing. And here’s the rub; with this criticism of the studies is revealed a gaping hole in this half baked hypothesis which masquerades as Eye Accessing Cues. The problem is that if no consistent method of inducing a particular psychological state can be reliably achieved or alternatively assessed or calibrated, and the only potentially way of defining an individuals thinking pattern is through concurrent or reflective dialogue (of which I have serious doubts) how is a proactive or reactive calibration/analysis to be achieved by the typical NLP user in everyday situations? The answer is of course; it isn’t. As it is so clearly explained in the web based critique; it is extremely difficult if not virtually impossible to ensure regulated and controlled responses to achieve calibration of eye accessing movements. At the other end of this equation the analysis and interpretation of any EAC can be little more than unreliable speculation with a one in six chance of being correct. As a consequence this ‘window’ into the thinking patterns of the individual which some schools of NLP promote is hopelessly flawed and unworkable and the results worthless.

So if the cited research study is so flawed as to make its findings worthless because of the highly problematic process of inducing and/or interpreting a particular cognitive state in an individual it is also most certainly true of every other calibration or analysis undertaken in normal and typical interactions. Any benefit attributed to the calibration of cognitive states using eye movements is a figment of the collective NLP mind.

What observing and analysing eye movements may do is help develop rapport by displaying none verbally a close interest in the person with whom the NLP practioner is interacting. The calibration and analysis of eye movements does nothing I propose other than to focus the attention of one person on another. If it does that then it achieves something, but most certainly not in the way that is claimed by so many NLP practioners.


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