Physical change as evidence of truth-telling isn’t something to be taken at face value, a new study says.
Neurolinguistic programming or NLP, developed widely in the 1970’s as a way of understanding communication as it affects behavior, is still a favorite among some corporate up-and-comers, education aficionados, and counseling professionals. Some of its hypotheses were intriguing because it seemed destined to solve long-range problems quickly. One of these is whether someone is telling the truth or not.
But the validity of understanding the mind by watching body language, including blushing, loss of color, body posture, and eye movement, is not without controversy. New work around these questions not only can but should impact the way that organizations teach and use NLP. Why? So that the fun of learning it and the intrigue of employing it don’t outpace its reality.
In a study published July 11, 2012, on PLoS ONE, the claim that eye movements necessarily tell the truth has been successfully questioned. In it, two versions tracked eye movements of two groups of participants. Lie detector tests were taken afterward by the participants to check on discrepancies.
In the first version of the study, “coders” noted the eye movements of participants either lying or telling the truth that did not match typical NLP patterns. These patterns include, for instance, remembering what actually did happen or planning a story that didn’t actually happen.
In the second version, participants were split into a group that was told upfront about NLP hypotheses and a group that was not told. There was no significant difference between the groups in their eye movements when telling the truth or not.
There was even a third version of the study that tracked eye movements of both those telling the truth and those not doing so in a high-stakes public press conference. It was conducted with two researchers from the University of British Columbia. But again, no significant differences were found between the eye movements of those telling the truth and those who were not.
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