I keep hearing people saying how they’ve heard NLP can help you tell if someone is lying by looking at their eye movements…
It sounds like a pretty neat trick – I mean most people have seen shows like ‘Lie To Me’ and thought how amazing it would be to be able to read someone like that.
In fact, if you search the internet for lie detecting and NLP, you’ll find loads of different websites telling you how to tell if someone is lying by watching their eyes and other movements.
Most of the myth about lie detection with NLP comes down to the eye patterns. Basically, as you look at someone (who is normally organized – explained in depth on an NLP training), if as you look at them their eyes move up and right, that reveals that they are remembering a picture. If their eyes move up and left as you watch them, that is what we call visual construct, which reveals they are ‘constructing’ an image.
And that’s where the gross oversimplification comes into play, where if someone sees someones eyes move up to the left as they are talking, they think they are lying because they are ‘constructing’ an image.
In fact, I had a student who was on my course who went for a job interview where the interviewer had told him he was glad he was not lying in the interview, because he didn’t see his eyes move up left.
Now, this really is a dangerous oversimplification of the whole thing.
First, many psychologists say that remembering events involves a ‘reconstruction’ of the experience – which some people may do by rebuilding experiences and it may involve construction as part of this – therefore the eyes may move to the left for this reason.
Second, many people have memories where they see themselves in the memory (what we call dissociated in NLP). Now in any experience you have had in life, you never see yourself in it as you do it, because you are looking through your own eyes (associated). So if your memory has you in the picture, you’ve done some construction to get it – again construction may involved eyes moving up left.
Third, someone who is highly creative may spend a lot of time in ‘construct mode’ so their eyes tend to move up there a lot, but it’s not lying.
Well – I could keep going and going on with this – there’s lots more reasons it doesn’t work like this!
Also, there are no universal hand gestures or physiology for lying – if people say putting your hand to the mouth means lying, it’s really another oversimplification. In fact, the research into lie detection shows that people who are trained in lie detection perform hardly any better than at a level of chance – some of them actually worse! For example, metaanalysis by DePaulo et al (2003).
Now, there are cues that allow us to understand what is going on inside someone else, and these are things that you learn on a good NLP training, but it doesn’t oversimplify human behaviour, which is highly complex!
In fact, if you find a website claiming that it can turn you into a lie detector, if you are a real lie detector you’ll know instantly that site is lying! (Or maybe just not really understanding it!)
Oversimplifications like this can be dangerous – imagine the consequences in law of condemning someone as a liar because their eyes moved in a certain way, when they really are not lying!
That’s why a little knowledge in the wrong hands can be an issue – and that’s a key reason I encourage people who want to learn NLP to find an experienced NLP trainer.
Our next NLP Practitioner course is October 15 – 21 in Islington, London, and I’ll be covering some of those finer distinctions in NLP that really help you deliver excellent results.