Tag Archives: Neuro-linguistic programming

Tapping, or the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). What. The. Fuck.

OK, buckle up space-cadets, this is a weird one.  The Emotional Freedom Technique is a kind of psychotherapy, developed in the 90s, that draws on a variety of pseudoscientific bollocks, including accupressure, our old friend NLP, various kinds of laying-on-of-hands-type ‘energy’ therapies and a good dose of very confused neurobollocks.

Essentially, what happens in an EFT counselling session is that you discuss your problem, while stimulating the ‘end points of the body’s energy meridians’. This stimulation takes the form of tapping yourself; on the head, the face, wherever.

Here’s a demonstration video from this site. Forget the bullshit at the beginning and skip through from about 2 minutes in, where she starts literally hitting herself in the face:

She’s hitting herself in the face! What is she doing? If you saw someone doing this in the street you’d assume they were having some kind of psychotic episode.

There are lots of ‘tapping’ sites out there (like this one), but this one is by far the most egregious in terms of neurobollocks. Projecttapping.com appears to have some serious money behind it, and is chock-to-the-brim with teeth-grinding neurobollocks:

“According to Neuroscience, every memory you have is encoded in your brain with an emotional charge. This charge then creates a neural pathway to signal an appropriate physiological response every time you’re reminded of an experience relevant to that memory. For instance, you might start trembling every time you’re faced with the possibility of public speaking. Tapping helps you rewire these neural pathways, so you can eliminate both the subconscious and conscious fears that cause negative reactions in you. After just a few sessions you’ll already notice the difference: fears that once caused you to doubt yourself, reject wealth or avoid change will begin to melt away.”

Also, apologies for the extensive quotes, but this one is just too good not to share too:

Tapping positively modifies your DNA
A study conducted by the Heartmath Institute showed that when a study participant evoked strong positive emotions like love and appreciation through practices like Tapping, their DNA unwound and increased in length. Negative emotions, on the other hand, caused strands of their DNA to shorten and in some cases disappear. In other words, working with your emotions allows you to change your genetic make-up and your life.

There you have it folks, positive emotions unwind your DNA, negative ones make it disappear! There’s also a weird undercurrent on that site about money and wealth – apparently if you’re poor, it’s probably because you’re ‘afraid’ of being wealthy and pushing money away. Riiiight.

There’s plenty of ridiculous stuff on the internet of course, so this is nothing too remarkable. What’s slightly weird about this particular site is that projecttapping.com is published by a company called Mindvalley, who describe themselves as ‘Pushing humanity forward through innovations in education and culture-hacking’. They seem to be a really weird blend of very up-to-date marketing and some really hackneyed new-age bullshit. The kind of company that California just seems to be so good at producing for some reason. Take a look at their ‘about’ page, if you have a chance. Have you ever seen a more self-satisfied bunch of touchy-feely hipster twats? Piss off with your bullshit ‘culture-hacking’ and ‘online meditation portals’. Do some real work.

Neuro-Linguistic Programming – the 1970s neurobollocks that just refuses to die

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I’d prefer to spend two days in a Siberian gulag than with these two smug bullshitters.

Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) was invented in the mid-70s by Richard Bandler (a psychology and philosophy graduate) and John Grinder (a linguist). It originally grew out of observations made in therapy, and a metaphorical extension of some of the concepts of Chomsky’s transformational grammar. In the fertile grounds of the 70s Californian therapy and self-help movement, it soon blossomed into a multi-faceted set of techniques and philosophies. By the 80s it was being widely touted as a novel therapy technique and attracted some serious attention from researchers. However it was relatively quickly understood that there was no empirical basis for its key claims, and as its practitioners began to make ever more outlandish claims, serious interest from professionals waned.

This didn’t stop the NLP-faithful though. People like Tony Robbins (who studied with Bandler) made incredibly successful careers out of the motivational speaking/books circuit.  Despite this undeniable popular appeal, NLP is nowadays widely-regarded as pseudo-scientific bollocks of a particularly refined and rarefied strain.

It’s actually quite hard to pin down exactly what the key principles of NLP are. This is partly because its founders and practitioners use such vague and amorphous language, full of metaphors and pointless jargon, but also because of the diversity of its supposed applications; from ‘traditional’ therapeutic settings, to sports coaching, to corporate training seminars, to (creepily) seduction. It aspires to include something for everyone; the best way to maximise the market and therefore the potential profit. One relatively common theme is focused on teaching communication skills in order to facilitate the learner’s personal and professional relationships. On the surface this sounds reasonable, but the communication theory that its based on has absolutely zero empirical support. The wackier variants incorporate all kinds of other bollocks like hypnosis, and many NLP-whackos talk about being able to ‘reprogram’ their own (and other’s) brain, often by claiming to influence the subconscious mind in some way.

Despite being nearly 40 years old, and a ridiculous, facile hodge-podge of concepts from psychology, philosophy, linguistics and new-age twaddle with absolutely no support from any reputable sources, amazingly, NLP is still very much alive and kicking. Bandler has kept on developing (and ruthlessly trademarking) a load of new techniques including ‘Design Human Engineering™’, or ‘Charisma Enhancement™’. A lot of his recent work also appears to include hypnosis. His website is essentially one big advertisement for his books, CDs and speaking gigs; and there are literally thousands of individuals, businesses, and ‘institutes’ offering NLP training for a bewildering variety of purposes and people. Bandler has even latterly jumped on the ‘Brain training’ trend with a new company called ‘QDreams‘ (‘Quantum brain training!’; ‘Success at the speed of thought!’ FFS…). Searching on Twitter turns up many, many people earnestly tweeting away about the benefits of NLP. Why is it so persistent? Partly this is because of Bandler’s clear talent for slick marketing, re-invention and dedication to innovative bull-shittery, and partly because NLP was never really clearly defined in the first place, which makes it highly malleable and adaptable to any pseudo-scientific new-age trends that come along. Despite a hiccup in the mid-90s (when Bandler tried to sue Grinder for ninety million dollars) it seems to be as popular as ever, and to be attracting new adherents all the time.

In my opinion the real stroke of genius in NLP, and perhaps the reason why it’s been so successful, is simply the name. These days we’re used to putting the ‘neuro-‘ prefix in front of everything, but back in the ’70s, this was way ahead of its time. Obviously there’s nothing remotely ‘neuro’ about it, though. Plus the ‘programming’ bit has a deliciously Orwellian appeal; promising the potential to effect change in oneself or others, if you just know the right techniques.

But effecting genuinely meaningful behavioural change in yourself is hard work. NLP derives from the quick-fix mentality of the self-help movement and is doomed to failure because of it. Does it actually help people? Perhaps, on some level, but any anecdotal results are almost certainly derived from a version of the placebo effect. Because of its vague nature, it’s not even really clear how its effectiveness would be meaningfully assessed anyway. Until we discover the genuine low-level programming language of the human brain we’ll probably always have to put up with this kind of bollocks being peddled.

There’s another really good article on NLP at the Skeptics Dictionary.

Folk neuroscience, and some other neurobollocks

Woody Guthrie. Because 'folk'. And frankly, just 'because'.

Woody Guthrie. Because ‘folk’. And frankly, just ‘because’.

In a frankly spooky bit of synchronicity, just as the blog was being set up for the first time last weekend, the marvellous and really quite annoyingly youthful and prolific Vaughn Bell had a great piece in the Observer on ‘folk’ neuroscience. His thesis is that the language and general approach of neuroscience has now permeated the public’s way of thinking to such a degree that it’s becoming relatively commonplace to explain things in terms of ‘chemical imbalances in the brain’ or ‘neuroplasticity’. Neuroscientists realise that these kinds of phrases really don’t mean anything much at all, but this kind of neurobollocks seems to have a fairly significant effect on the general public.

The previous posts on this blog have noted that some modern neurobollocks is actually just plain old bollocks, re-packaged. For instance Brain Balance Centers seem to be chiropractic, with a modern ‘brain training’ spin, and QDreams ‘Quantum Brain Training’ is just old neurolinguistic-programming tosh from the 70s given a shiny new (‘Quantum!’) makeover. The reason this kind of cynical re-packaging works, is because of the genuine widely-reported neuroscience research that the public has been exposed to in recent years; because of this media-saturation, some of the key concepts and terminology have become familiar. This familiarity falls short of genuine understanding of course, but we can’t blame the general public for that; these issues are complex, and highly-educated people who have been conducting brain research for years struggle to understand some of them.

The problem is that this familiarity with neuro-terminology is then exploited by the unscrupulous neurobollocks-merchants, who use the same language in order to make us buy useless products, do pointless exercises, and believe our kids are dysfunctional. Fortunately, help is at hand though; Christian Jarrett (also quite infuriatingly youthful and prolific; I mean seriously, don’t these people sleep?) has written an article in Psychology Today titled “Your 5-Step Self-Defence Program Against Neuro-Nonsense”. Read. Digest. Tell your friends.

In other news, a fMRI-researcher at the Washington University has apparently been playing fast and loose with his data in a major way. Psychology is going through a bit of a difficult time at the moment with fraud cases, and it’s all very unfortunate and sordid. There’s a very interesting interview with his PhD supervisor here, and also some thoughtful commentary from another ex-colleague here.