I'm sometimes asked about NLP, or "Neurolinguistic Programming,"
since it also makes statements about how persuasion occurs. I've
met some people who believe that NLP is very effective, and others
who think that NLP doesn't live up to its claims.
Although social psychology and NLP ask similar questions in
a few areas, social psychology is not at all like NLP in its
approach to answering them, so comparing the two is like comparing
apples to shoes.
Social Psychology is a science; it relies in empiricism, research,
the scientific method, data collection, and statistical analysis
in the pursuit of verifiable facts about basic human nature.
It is a recognized subdiscipline within psychology that is taught
at most universities; its practitioners are largely Ph.D.s who
publish in peer-reviewed journals. There is intense competition
among researchers for journal space, so the quality of research
in the top journals is high--even though few people have the
training to follow what the research elite are publishing. (If
you're a college student and you've been assigned journal articles
to read, you know what I'm talking about!) The best estimates
I've found indicate there are about 4000 social psychologists
performing research in the U.S.
NLP, on the other hand, is intuitive and philosophical in
its approach. NLP borrows heavily from certain psychotherapies,
and its origins are associated with the study of magic and trance
inducement. It is now disseminated by a network of NLP practitioners
who have their own certification process.
Social psychology does not have NLP's philosophical structure,
which makes NLP interesting and appealing. NLP offers a breadth
and structure in its approach which its practitioners find attractive.
Even though social psychology doesn't offer broad theories
that are flexible enough to do extended duty as a philosophy,
a psychotherapy, and a method of persuading people, I think that
social psychology offers a more rigorous approach to understanding
the persuasive process. Social psychology attempts to verify
its findings by forever trying to disprove them through
testing, keeping only those findings that stand the test of time.
Despite these differences, a few researchers have tested NLP
predictions to see if they hold up. I've been told by a number
of NLP practitioners that "NLP theory was never meant to
be tested in a laboratory." (I don't understand that statement.
But then, I'm a scientist, and I think theories should be tested.)
Nonetheless, some people have tested NLP predictions under
controlled conditions. When I reviewed this literature in 1997,
here's what I found:
- "Though it claims neuroscience in its pedigree, NLP's
outmoded view of the relationship between cognitive style and
brain function ultimately boils down to crude analogies. NLP
basks in effusive testimonials, but the National Research Council
could unearth no hard evidence in its favor, or even a succinct
statement of its underlying theory."
-- Beyerstein, BL. (1990). Brainscams: Neuromythologies of the
New Age. International Journal of Mental health, 19 (3), 27-36.
- ". . . N.L.P. Theory is not well articulated, its terminology,
premises and assumptions are ambiguous or poorly specified. As
the analysis in this article has shown, a basic reason for the
theory's inadequacies are due to its borrowings from theories
that are theoretically antagonistic to each other. . . . The
conclusions from reviewing the literature are that as a theory,
it is undeveloped and incoherent and that its techniques offer
-- Baddeley, M. (1989). Neurolinguistic programming: The academic
verdict so far. Australian Journal of Clinical Hypnotherapy and
Hypnosis, 10 (2), 73-81.
- This study compared NLP techniques such as pacing, metaphor,
and phonemic devices to two much simpler non-NLP control conditions:
a direct-information condition and a placebic information-only
condition. No differences in attitudes were found among the conditions,
but the non-NLP direct-information control condition demonstrated
significantly more persuasion in behavioral measures, resulting
in the opposite of what NLP practitioners would predict.
-- Dixon, PN; Parr GD; Yarbrough D; and Rathael M. (1986).
Neurolinguistic Programming as a Persuasive Communication Technique.
The Journal of Social Psychology, 126(4), 545-550.
- Huge intercorrelations (hovering around r=.7) between subject
performance in different sensory modes resulted, which is the
only possible outcome that wasn't predicted by NLP.
-- Fromme DK & Daniel J (1984). Neurolinguistic Programming
Examined. Journal of Counseling Psychology 31 (3) 387-390.
- "The basic tenents of NLP have failed to be reliably
verified in almost 86% of the controlled studies . . . the inquirer
in this field may be forgiven for accepting the conclusion of
Elich et al, (1985), 'NLP has achieved something akin to a cult
status when it may be nothing more than another psychological
-- Sharpley, C. F. (1987). Research findings on neurolingusitic
programming: Nonsupportive data or an untestable theory? Journal
of Counseling Psychology, 34 (1), 103-107.
Of course, you'll have to do your own research and make up
your own mind about this topic, but perhaps these leads can get
Let's move on to our next topic, the Structure
of Influence . . .
Copyright © 1997 by Kelton Rhoads, Ph.D.
All rights reserved.
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