So eye-accessing cues doesn’t tell if people are lying? The short answer is simply and plain, NO!
Were you surprised? Then you’ve probably been told or read something about how the Neuro-Linguistics Programming (NLP) eye-accessing cues are an ‘effective tool for lie detection’. It’s important to understand that this is a dangerous myth that needs to be stopped because it creates misinformation about both NLP and the science of lie detection.
Who are we to say this? NaviGo® Asia is authorised to train in both the authentic NLP by Dr. Richard Bandler (Co-Founder of NLP), as well as the actual science of EQ and lie detection by Dr. Paul Ekman (leading psychologist in the field of emotions and lie detection, Co-discoverer of Micro-Expressions). It’s part of our service to educate and to dispel the myths and misinformation and set the record straight.
In order to do this, first we’ll need to explain what the Eye-Accessing Cues actually is and also how it works.
NLP Eye-Accessing Cues
The way some NLP trainers and online articles talk about it, it’s as if the movement of the eyes can magically spell out a person’s innermost thoughts! It’s simply not meant for lie detection. These are bogus exaggerations and even Dr. Bandler will tell you so. When he first observed the eye-accessing patterns, it was simply noticing that people looked in different directions when they thought about things. This led to discovering a correlation when the brain is accessing the different the cortexes (visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, and auditory digital) for information.
The eye-accessing cues are used in NLP courses for collecting information by observing their movement. This gives information back to the practitioner about what they’re doing in their mind when they think about something. Well, how is that different from reading their mind you ask (and by extension, if are they lying or not)?
NLP is an information collection tool. It focuses on understanding the process of how the mind, language, and behaviour works; i.e. what happens first, second, etc. Practitioners use the cues to observe which part of the brain is being accessed to understand how they think about something.
How Eye-Accessing Cues Work
To simplify the explanation, for a normally organised person, the direction where the eyes move give an indication, which area of the brain they’re accessing. For example, (as you are looking at the person) when they looking up and to the left, it means they’re accessing the visual recall of their memory to ‘better’ access how something visually appears. Likewise, looking up and right means they’re accessing the visual construct to ‘better’ access their visual imagination to construct how something would look.
If you want to learn more about this, we cannot over-emphasise the importance of choosing a good trainer who understands the Authentic NLP™, who also understands the science of lie detection.
So, how is it being misinterpreted?
The problem starts when these NLP trainers explain eye-accessing as a lie detection tool using this thinking:
- Ask a question that is ‘supposed to access a certain part of the brain’
- Observe if their eyes go where they are ‘supposed to’.
- If it doesn’t, this is ‘supposed to’ mean they are lying.
The common example is asking, “What did you have for dinner last Wednesday?” This question is supposed to trigger a remembered image. They’re supposed to be lying if they look up and to their right (VC=Visual Construct) because the image is ‘constructed’. That simplistic thinking could pigeon-hole any statement being accessed under ‘remembered’ as truth, and ‘construct’ as a lie. Real lie detection is nothing this coarse or rudimentary.
You see, a practiced liar will often have their answers prepared and rehearsed. In this case, he would only need to remember (VR=Visual Remembered) what he wants to lie about but according to the NLP myth we would believe him since he accessed ‘visual remembered’. In professional lie detection we refer to this as a false-negative or believing the lie.
Conversely, someone who is telling the truth but fearful of being disbelieved, may try to fill in the gaps in their memory (We’re ALL susceptible to this, especially under stressful interviews). And so, their eyes might go to VC to ‘construct’ lesser or more details to make the story more plausible. Now according to the myth we would disbelieve him since he accessed ‘visual construct’ and therefore must be lying. We call this a false-positive or disbelieving the truth.
So now you see how inaccurate and unreliable eye accessing cues are as a lie detection tool. The truth teller would be disbelieved while the guilty individual might get away. There is so much that has to be considered before we can make a conclusion if an individual is truthful in his account or not.
The Science of Lie Detection
In actual lie detection, accuracy is important. There no evidence that a certain eye movements definitively means lying (Read another popular myth about liars avoiding eye contact here). It simply is not scientifically supported. So it offers no merit as an accurate tool for lie detection at all.
Another consideration to understand is that lie detection is a very serious field with very severe implications. It is not a party trick because the purpose of lie detection is to determine someone’s truthfulness or credibility. Labelling someone as a ‘liar’ using unverified and arbitrary methods is dangerous and downright unethical. It’s important to remember such labels require evidence to support. Otherwise, it would be possible to ruin someone’s life by calling them a liar arbitrarily without any evidence.
Lie detection requires a wider and deeper range of skills and understanding. In this respect, we train based on over 40-years of peer-reviewed research that has been tested and re-tested by the scientific community. Good investigators know that lie detection is not the end game because detecting lies is not enough. They need to consider the larger context and as well as the need to investigate further. After all, not all lies are malicious.
For more articles about the science of lie detection, you can read them here.