Long held to be the window to the soul, research published today in PLoS shows that the eyes are not the tell-tale Achilles heel of liars, despite what as NLP practitioners, Hollywood and innumerable armchair mentalists would have you believe. Snip:

For decades many NLP practitioners have claimed that when a person looks up to their right they are likely to be lying, whilst a glance up to their left is indicative of telling the truth.

Professor Richard Wiseman (University of Hertfordshire, UK) and Dr Caroline Watt (University of Edinburgh, UK) tested this idea by filming volunteers as they either lied or told the truth, and then carefully coded their eye movements.  In a second study another group of participants was asked to watch the films and attempt to detect the lies on the basis of the volunteers’ eye movements.

“The results of the first study revealed no relationship between lying and eye movements, and the second showed that telling people about the claims made by NLP practitioners did not improve their lie detection skills,” noted Wiseman.

A final study involved moving out of the laboratory and was conducted in collaboration with Dr Leanne ten Brinke and Professor Stephen Porter from the University of British Columbia, Canada.  The team analysed films of liars and truth tellers from high profile press conferences in which people were appealing for missing relatives or claimed to have been the victim of a crime.

“Our previous research with these films suggests that there are significant differences in the behaviour of liars and truth tellers,” noted Dr Leanne ten Brinke. “However, the alleged tell-tale pattern of eye movements failed to emerge.”

“A large percentage of the public believes that certain eye movements are a sign of lying, and this idea is even taught in organisational training courses.  Our research provides no support for the idea and so suggests that it is time to abandon this approach to detecting deceit” remarked Watt.

The Eyes Don’t Have It: Lie Detection and Neuro-Linguistic Programming” can be read here.


Image CC Rocker_44, Flickr


  1. #1 Chris Harrison
    United Kingdom
    July 16, 2012

    Pity the quote in italics at the start of the article is untrue.

    Still it’s much easier to shoot down a theory if you redefine it to suit.

  2. #2 dean
    July 19, 2012

    We needed another study to determine NLP was crap? Who still buys this garbage?

  3. #3 Stewart
    July 21, 2012

    One more debunking of NLP myths. There is no there, there.

  4. #4 james ainoris
    July 26, 2012

    I find it odd to even have such a subject on any true scientific site. In fact, psychology ,psychiatry are not even recocognized as “science” by the american federation of scientists. No placebo double blind testing has ever confirmed any opinion or treatment to hold valid as per science. On a funny note, i have found that people who make strong eye contact are usually the ones to worry about.. used car salesmen types… people that may be shy or frightened or upset may avoid eye contact… especially if they dont trust the other person…lie detector tests also are not valid in any way accurate. I would challenge anyone to research the racist origins of the “bell curve “,mmpi” and the “IQ”…meaningless (top physicists had low or strange scores read Richard Feynmann s stuff you will laugh , also Carl Sagans “demon haunted world”) I pray that we never end up in a world were these type of theories and people are ever given credability. Its a throw back to middle ages in europe…james ainoris.

  5. #5 Brian
    August 18, 2012

    Late to the party on this one but just wanted to add (as a trainer of and therapist using NLP) that this study is, in itself, based on a lie.
    Only a very poor NLP Practitioner would say that eyes tell lies, in fact it is one of the myths of NLP i personally am sure to debunk on every and all trainings I do.
    The thing to remember about NLP is that it isn’t made up. It wasn’t just two crackpots from California making stuff up off their heads. It was a group of very clever linguists, coders (and, I grant you, the occasional mad man) slowly decoding the art of people who, still to this day, are regarded by the majority of the psychology and counselling world to be the absolute best in their field.
    It’s not for everyone (although I have worked with many sceptics) and you are entitled to your opinion but just don’t class it alongside any alternative therapy or debunk it when you don’t truly understand it.

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