One of the primary claims of neuro-linguistic programming is that people possess a particular language system (visual, auditory, or kinesthetic representational).

For example:

For example, a person whose predominant representational system is visual will say phrases, such as “I see what you mean,” “that looks good to me,” “we see eye to eye,” or “I get the picture.” On the other hand, a person whose preference is auditory will use language, such as “something tells me...,” “that rings a bell,” “we’re on the same wave length,” or “that sounds okay to me.” Finally, a person who is kinesthetic or “feeling” oriented will make statements, such as “I’ll get in touch with you,” “how does that grab you?,” “you don’t have to get pushy,” or “how do you think I feel?

The idea is that you will be able to increase your rapport by matching the persons language system.

  1. Do people tend to speak using a particular language system?
  2. Is there any evidence that matching will increase rapport with people who do use a particular system?

I am not looking for a general debunking for NLP, but for this specific claim

  • 3
    I find this suspicious, particularly because many of these phrases are used without thought to the individual words that constitute them. When I say that something rings a bell, I'm saying that because the phrase "rings a bell" means something and not because it's an apt metaphor and I empathize with the auditory aspect of it. Also because I tend to notice people using many of these phrases.
    – Publius
    Mar 30, 2013 at 8:24
  • 3
    This is close to the claim that people have a most-effective learning "system," which is a claim that's broadly made in the field of education. Mar 30, 2013 at 20:49
  • 3
    @LarryOBrien: From what I've read, there really isn't any strong evidence for the claim made in education
    – Casebash
    Mar 31, 2013 at 23:17
  • 2
    I use all of the above with more-or-less equal frequency
    – warren
    Apr 5, 2013 at 18:26
  • I am pretty sure most people use all three, since we all have eyes, ears, and ability to feel, question is more which your dominant type is, right?
    – Wertilq
    Apr 23, 2013 at 14:57

1 Answer 1


Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) is a somewhat controversial area of research, often relegated to journals like The Journal of Personal Selling and Sales Management.1

The NLP paradigm as a whole is generally discredited in the more mainstream scientific literature. A widely cited text on the topic concludes to say that:

We found little if any evidence to support NLP’s assumptions or to indicate that it is effective as a strategy for social influence. It assumes that by tracking another’s eye movements and language, an NLP trainer can shape the person’s thoughts, feelings, and opinions (Dilts, 1983). There is no scientific support for these assumptions.2

This directly contradicts the main premises of NLP and #2 specifically.

Tomasz Witkowski of the Polish Skeptics Club published an article in Polish Psychological Bulletin, reviewing the literature on this subject.3 His conclusions although mixed, are also unambiguous:

The qualitative analysis indicates the greater weight of the non-supportive studies and their greater methodological worth against the ones supporting the tenets. Results contradict the claim of an empirical basis of NLP.

Among many reputable sources, Witkowski cites an article in the Journal of Counseling Psychology, which concludes:

They were unable to find any support for the NLP-derived hypothesis that subjects showing differential ability across sensory modes would choose word phrases reflecting their preferred sensory mode.4

The Polish study further undermines the scientific basis for NLP and for #1 specifically.

  1. See for example, "Rapport Building for Salespeople: A Neuro-Linguistic Approach" by William G. Nickels, Robert F. Everett and Ronald Klein, The Journal of Personal Selling and Sales Management , Vol. 3, No. 2 (Nov., 1983), pp. 1-7.
  2. "Be All That You Can Be: Enhancing Human Performance" by D. Druckman in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology Vol 34, No 11 (2004), pp. 2234-2266
  3. http://web.archive.org/web/20150525143628/http://www.degruyter.com/view/j/ppb.2010.41.issue-2/v10059-010-0008-0/v10059-010-0008-0.xml
  4. Fromme, D. K., & Daniell, J. (1984). "Neurolinguistic Programming examined: imagery, sensory mode, and communication." Journal of Counseling Psychology, 31.
  • I'm looking for information on this specific question, rather than a general debunking of NLP
    – Casebash
    Apr 26, 2013 at 5:29
  • I think my answer directly contradicts the primary claim and #2, and indirectly #1. If NLP is bunk, all associated claims are as well.
    – denten
    Apr 26, 2013 at 8:50
  • @Casebash I've added a reference from the quoted article addressing #1 directly as well.
    – denten
    Apr 26, 2013 at 9:07
  • 1
    Pared down the quotes to make the meaning more clear. I think this is pretty conclusive, @Casebash.
    – denten
    Apr 26, 2013 at 9:15
  • 2
    "If NLP is bunk, all associated claims are as well" - not necessarily - just because the theoretical basis is unsound, doesn't mean that the claim can't be true for other reasons. Nevertheless, you've now answered my question so I awarded the bounty
    – Casebash
    Apr 29, 2013 at 0:32

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