Neurolinguistic programming

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"Neurolinguistic programming, or NLP, is a proposed set of models, presuppositional beliefs, patterns, techniques, and observation-based theories resulting from the study of the structure of subjective experience, behavior and communication." [1] NLP has been applied to therapy, healing, and self development. Generally, NLP is a collection of theories and suppositions about how the structure of language processing, or the structure of magic, based on a combination of neurological research and somewhat more subjective behavioral research.

As a social phenomenon, NLP is variously considered to be a loose set of uncentralized groups, a new alternative religion, a cult, and a new age commercial development in the prosperity consciousness mold.

The study started with the work of an information scientist and a linguist at the University of California at Santa Cruz. By modeling the behavior of subjects they identified as highly effective people, John Grinder and Richard Bandler were able to make out patterns of thinking that assisted in the subject's success.

"The two theorized that the brain can learn the healthy patterns and behaviors and that this would bring about positive physical and emotional effects. What emerged from their work came to be known as Neuro-Linguistic Programming." [2] Grinder and Bandler's work soon became a psychological explanation for an older populist spiritual belief that "you create your own reality."

"The basic premise of NLP is that the words we use reflect an inner, subconscious perception of our problems. If these words and perceptions are inaccurate, they will create an underlying problem as long as we continue to use and to think them. Our attitudes are, in a sense, a self-fulfilling prophecy." [ibid]


A classic NLP technique, based on research showing that most people respond more positively to language using a particular preferred sense as a metaphor, conforms a speakers metaphor with a listeners preference. For example, one person might process information in terms of vision, and say, "I see what you mean." Another centers on hearing and says, "I hear what you're saying." For smell, "I've got the scent," etc.

A person's own language is the clue that shows which sense they relate to most strongly. NLP suggests that a message tailored to use the language of a person's preferred sense is unconsciously perceived by the target as more appealing.

Other NLP techniques involve agreement coupled with statements evoking ambivalence then followed by a proposed alternative. For example, an NLP practitioner might say:

"I know you like to drink (ethyl alchohol) every day. It relaxes you and helps you get away from problems at work and at home. Some of those problems are pretty much insurmountable, it seems. Anyone with your problems would probably want to drink everyday.(agreement)."
"I knew a guy that drank like that. He said the drinking was helpful, but eventually, that was causing him problems too. Eventually he found a counselor who helped him sort through his problems. He wasn't sure it would help, but he decided to try it anyway and he was glad he did. (invitation to ambivilance)"
"I can get you that guy's number if you want. Maybe he can give you the details about his counselor and maybe you could see if that is something you want to try."(suggestion of change)

Though generally found among collections of psychological material represented as "New Age" NLP theory or related linguistic approaches are often incorporated in advertising or propaganda produced by a variety of interest groups.

NLP is not considered credible by most academic psychology institutions, is considered to be pseudoscientific in theory, and has failed to show efficacy in research reviews.

Richard Bandler has also gone on to create Design Human Engineering which is an outgrowth of NLP, and Neuro Hypnotic Repatterning an intergration of spiritual techniques with NLP.


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