Putting NLP Metaprograms Research in context:
Studying the scientific validity of NLP

This page puts NLP Research in its scientific context. Click here to learn more about NLP metaprograms.


This article is written to explain the historical background of the iWAM questionnaire, which is based on NLP meta-programs and is inspired by the NLP modeling approach. While we at jobEQ have always adhered to the scientific research methods as they are used in psychology, and our tools are often used for academic research projects, this article shows that NLP as a field has had more problems with science, especially with the modern psychological research methods. At jobEQ, we have solved this problem by reconnecting NLP meta-programs to their historical roots, which pre-date NLP and by aligning ourselves to research guidelines from Cognitive Science.

NLP Origins and criticism

NLP is an abbreviation for "Neuro-Linguistic Programming". The name comes from the disciplines which influenced the early development of the field, which began as an exploration of the relationship between neurology, linguistics, and observable patterns ("programs") of behavior. The roots of NLP can be considered the same as the roots of what is currently known as 'cognitive science', namely an interdisciplinary study combining linguistics, psychology, anthropology, philosophy, neurology and computer science (or cybernetics). The NLP founders and the persons surrounding them all had knowledge of one or more of those fields.

NLP came to fruition at the University of California, Santa Cruz in the period 1973-1979. In the fall of 1970 John Grinder took up a position as assistant professor in linguistics at Kresge College of the UCSC, which was founded that year with the aim to promote interdisciplinary research with an ecological focus to 'explore educational innovation through a human relations approach'. Richard Bandler, the co-founder of NLP, was a student at Kresge College. In 1972, Gregory Bateson, whose work inspired NLP, affiliated himself with Kresge College till the end of the academic year 1976-1977.

The research methods followed by the early NLP research community were those commonly used by linguists, philosophers and psychotherapists at the time. John Grinder was an expert in Transformational Grammar and the first NLP book The Structure of Magic, Volume I (Bandler & Grinder, 1975a) was written in the line with his previous work. Later on the NLP community developed it's own research methodology. Leslie Cameron-Bandler, Robert Dilts, et al followed a rigorous process in order to define the NLP metaprograms, and in the period 1981-1983 Ross Steward completed PhD-level research to validate the use of metaprograms for HR applications when creating what is now known as the LAB Profile. Even if by today's cognitive science research standards some of the original NLP research must be called inadequate, we now can classify NLP research projects as fitting in the field of cognitive science. Indeed, when citing the "major findings of cognitive science" in the introduction to their book Philosophy in the Flesh, Lakoff & Johnson (1999) are refering to (1) abstact concepts being largely methophorical and (2) the mind being inherently embodied. These tenets correspond to NLP's basic presuppositions: (1) "The Map is not the Territory" and (2) "Body and Mind form a systemic whole".

Since John Grinder left the university in the late 1970s, the importance of NLP research has been downplayed by many people involved in the field. The main focus of the persons involved in NLP became training "NLP practitioners", rather than doing new research. Also, NLP's research methods may be seen as "outdated" when compared to modern research standards in psychology, which put more stress on statistics. While some NLPers are working hard to prove the scientific validity of their methods (e.g. see the NLP Research Data Base), some other NLPers, including John Grinder, now even dismiss that psychological research methods would apply to NLP modeling or NLP research in general (Grinder, 2002). As a result, a valid criticism has been that "NLP modeling" projects (of patterns of excellence, based on high-performance models) are often not verified through statistical methods (e.g. see the Entry for Neurolinguistic Programming in the Skeptic's Dictionary (Robert Todd Carroll, 2003)). If one wants to be taken seriously in science, one needs to use statistical/psychological methods to prove that the techniques developed from patterns indeed relate to the patterns of the source models. Thus it is not surprising to find NLP mentioned in the "Encyclopedia of pseudoscience" (2000, edited by Dr. William F. Williams), together with unvalidated "Complimentarily Medicine Approaches" such as Acupuncture, Biofeedback, Herbal medicines, etc.


jobEQ makes its questionnaires available for FREE to any person doing well defined research projects, which are endorsed by academic staff. The research should result in a dissertation or in a publishable paper. This might be research projects around NLP metaprograms, but also around emotional intelligence. e.g. our website includes the findings of research projects on emotional intelligence.

Contact us to find out more.

Response: Towards a valid NLP research model

To respond to this criticism, some people in the NLP community are making big strides in statistical research. In PhD research around NLP meta programs the same research methods that are used in psychology can be used in order to validate Models of Excellence (Merlevede, 1999, 2002). As an example, the initial research done by Patrick Merlevede led to a peer reviewed paper published in a medical research journal concerning Whiplash (Merlevede, 1999). The conclusion is that for some parts of NLP, such as meta programs, one can follow the typical research guidelines (e.g. for NLP modeling) and thus achieve academic credibility. Currently the same modeling and research methods are being used for a second PhD applying NLP Metaprograms in the area of studying the motivations of Medical Students at the School of Biomedical Sciences, Faculty of Health at the University of Newcastle, Australia (Marilyn Powell, 2005).

Unfortunately for NLP, even if this research work shows that some models which can be considered being a part of NLP (such as NLP metaprograms) might be able to prove some scientific worth within the field of psychology, this doesn't suffice to call NLP as a whole a "scientific field". To make matters worse, although many NLP books by authors such as Bandler, O'Connor, Dilts, L. Michael Hall, Bodenhammer, Shelle Rose Charvet mention NLP metaprograms, some others such as John Grinder currently dismiss metaprograms as being a "content model" which shouldn't be considered a part of NLP.

When looking for scientific grounds for NLP metaprograms, most of the NLP metaprograms can be sourced back to research pre-dating NLP (as the table below indicates). Given the controversy around NLP & Science, we have to conclude it makes more sense to consider NLP metaprograms as a variation on the theme of Cognitive Styles or Thinking Styles, a subdomain of psychology which includes researchers such as Robert J. Sternberg from Yale University (1997). In an effort to continue building a foundation of solid research, jobEQ adheres to strict standards for test design, such as those recommended by the American Psychological Association.

iWAM Meta-program Category & Distinctions Origin outside NLP First appeared inside NLP
OF1 Action Level: Starts VS Follows Proaction-Reaction, Bales 1950  
OF2 Action Direction: Approach VS Avoid Pleasure Principle (Freud) Towards coherence -Away from incoherence (DOTAR, 1980)
OF3 individual VS external motives Jung 1922: Judgmental VS Perceptive Structure of magic II (1975)
OF4 Task Attitude: alternatives VS procedures Transactional analysis (Berne 1962, 1972) Possibility, necessity (derived from modal operator: Structure Of Magic I, 1975)
OF5 Task Orientation: Breadth VS depth Scope (Ed Klima) Big chunk & Small Chunk
OF6 Communication Sort: Affective VS Neutral Jung 1922 Extroversion VS introversion Self-Other: Changing with Families (1976)
OF7 Work Environment Type: Group VS Individual Jung 1922 Extroversion VS introversion  
OF8 Work Assignment Type: Sole VS Group responsibility Individualism VS collectivism: Talcott Parsons 1951  
So Relationship Sorting: similarities / comparison / distinctions Equivalence range R.W Gardner 1953 Match - Mismatch
WA Work Approach: Activist, Theorist, Structurist Florence Kasai 1990  
TP Temporal Processing: Past, present, future Kluckhohn & Strodtbeck, 1961 Patterns I (1975)
Mo Motivational Sort: power, popularity, performance Mc Clelland 1953 Motivational Types (power, affiliation, achievement) Yeager (1985) in Thinking about thinking
N Norming Patterns: Universal Rules, No rules, organizational rules, particular rules Universalism - particularism Talcott Parsons 1951  
Co Convincer Patterns & Input representation: see, hear, read, do   Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic (Structure of Magic II)
Co Convincer Patterns - Interpretation Process   Building a complex equivalence as function of Frequency, tempo, duration
IF Interest Filters: People, Tools, Systems, Information, Money, Place, Time, Action,   Separates by Person, Place, Time, Action, Activity (DOTAR 1980)

References & Further Reading:

Articles about Research in NLP metaprograms:

Articles about NLP Research in general:

This page was written as reaction on the aricle on Wikipedia discussing NLP research and neurolinguistic programming in general


  • Bandler, Richard & John Grinder (1975a). The Structure of Magic I: A Book About Language and Therapy, Palo Alto, CA: Science & Behavior Books. ISBN 08314-0044-7
  • Bandler, Richard & John Grinder (1975b). Patterns of the Hypnotic Techniques of Milton H. Erickson, M.D. Volume 1, Cupertino, CA :Meta Publications. ISBN 091699001X
  • Dilts, Robert B. & Delozier Judith A. (2000), "Encyclopaedia of Systemic Neuro-Linguistic Programming and NLP New Coding", NLP University Press.
  • Dilts, R. (1998), Modeling With NLP, Meta Publications.
  • Grinder, John & Richard Bandler (1975). The Structure of Magic II: A Book About Communication and Change, Palo Alto, CA: Science & Behavior Books. ISBN 0831400498
  • Grinder, John & Richard Bandler (1976). Changing With Families: a Book About Further Education for Being Human
  • Grinder, John & Elgin, Suzette (1973), Guide to Transformational Grammar, by Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc.
  • Grinder, John; DeLozier, Judith & Bandler, Richard (1977), Patterns of the Hypnotic Techniques of Milton H. Erickson, M.D, Volumes II
  • Grinder, John & Bostic St Clair, Carmen (2002), Whispering in the Wind, J & C Enterprises, Scotts Valley, CA.
  • Sternberg, Robert J. (1997), Thinking Styles, Cambridge Univesity Press.

last modified: 2018/Oct/13 01:06 UTC