Updated: Mar 16
Have you ever wondered why your eyes move all around when you’re having a conversation? When you are thinking? William James (Principles of Psychology, 1890) first suggested that internal representations and eye movements may be related. This observation was not explored further until the 1970’s when Richard Bandler, John Grinder, Robert Dilts and others conducted further experimentation in this area.
According to research, eye movement seems to be associated with activating different parts of the brain. In NLP we call them eye accessing cues because they give us insights as to how people are accessing information. According to Bandler and Grinder our chosen words, phrases and sentences are indicative of our referencing of each of the representational systems i.e. visual, auditor, and kinaesthetic.
Representational systems are one of the foundational ideas of NLP and form the basis of many NLP techniques and methods. NLP asserts that for most circumstances and most people, three of the five sensory based modes seem to dominate in mental processing:
visual thoughts – sight, mental imagery, spatial awareness
auditory (or linguistic) thoughts – sound, speech, dialog, white noise
kinesthetic sense – somatic feelings in the body, temperature, pressure, and also emotion.
The other two senses, gustatory (taste) and olfactory (smell), which are closely associated, often seem to be less significant in general mental processing, and are often considered jointly as one.
The Eye Accessing Cues are presented in what is called a Normally Organised pattern. There is no right or wrong way. There is only the way that your clients, customers or friends and family store information. In order to determine whether a person is normally or reverse organised you ask them questions and watch which way their eyes move. Some individuals look through several or all the representational systems for the same piece of information. When this is done, it is called a Transderivational Search. Also some clients may have what I call a “look to talk” rule and will make minimal or no eye movement.
You can also use eye patterns to access truthfulness or congruence. If a person is describing something that they have seen or heard, then their eyes should primarily move to visual or auditory remembered. However if a person is making something up, then their eyes will tend to move to visual or auditory constructed, indicating that the person is constructing some part of the situation they are describing. This may indicate that the person is uncertain or untruthful about what they are thinking.
Be careful assuming someone is untruthful. For example, suppose you asked me a question about something that I had never thought about before. To formulate an answer, I may have to look at or hear one or more pieces of true information in a way that I had never done so before. In this situation, I would be constructing an answer and my eyes would most likely move to visual or auditory constructed.
It is known that different areas of the brain are responsible for different aspects of representation.