Lying Eyes1 Liars look to the right, right? Wrong.

According to received wisdom, eyes looking up to the right indicate lying

A paper published yesterday in PLOS ONE by the Richard Wiseman et al (the king of weird and wonderful psychology experiments) has apparently disproved the long-standing theory that direction of eye gaze can indicate lying. The theory which forms part of the bed-rock of the controversial offshoot of psychology called ‘Neuro-linguistic programming’ (NLP) has in fact never actually been experimentally researched until now. The study found absolutely no correlation between eye gaze and lying. Considering that this theory has become such a staple of popular psychology, it really is astounding that this was not discovered sooner.

From the abstract:

“Proponents of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) claim that certain eye-movements are reliable indicators of lying. According to this notion, a person looking up to their right suggests a lie whereas looking up to their left is indicative of truth telling. Despite widespread belief in this claim, no previous research has examined its validity. In Study 1 the eye movements of participants who were lying or telling the truth were coded, but did not match the NLP patterning. In Study 2 one group of participants were told about the NLP eye-movement hypothesis whilst a second control group were not. Both groups then undertook a lie detection test. No significant differences emerged between the two groups. Study 3 involved coding the eye movements of both liars and truth tellers taking part in high profile press conferences. Once again, no significant differences were discovered. Taken together the results of the three studies fail to support the claims of NLP. The theoretical and practical implications of these findings are discussed.”

Wiseman, R., Watt C., Brinke, L., Porter, S., Couper, S., & Rankin, C. (2012). The Eyes Don’t Have It: Lie Detection and Neuro-Linguistic Programming PLOS ONE : 10.1371/journal.pone.0040259

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  • NRC1808

    I have never supported the eye movement theory, but am not convinced that this study (as described in the abstract) disproves it.

    What I’ve read suggests it is not the lie alone, but the stress caused by the risk of being caught which causes the ‘tells’ to show.

    Was a reward offered for those who managed to avoid lie detection?

  • Mdebusk

    Would anyone care to disprove the oft-repeated but baseless assertion that NLP claims liars look up and right?

    I’ve studied NLP since 1997 and have trained with you NLP co-developer Richard Handler. Not once have I heard this claim from a credible source.

  • http://scottsworlds.blogspot.com.au/ Scott mcGreal

    Since when have serious researchers taken claims attributed to NLP (whether or not NLP-ers actually endorse them) seriously? I was under the impression that research on NLP fizzled out years ago due to disappointing results. 

  • David

    I’m sure you’re supposed to ask someone a question that requires imagination and see where the eyes move. That is the person’s “tell” and it means their making things up. You do the same with a question that requires their memory. If they have a pre-planned lie they’ll access their memory and their eyes will move that direction. All this needs to be kept in mind.

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