In behavioral psychology one considers a response to a stimulus. For instance Pavlov rang a bell and his dog salivated.
One can note that what the subject responds to is not the actual thing that happens in the environment but rather the sensory information received from that event. In other words, Pavlov's dog didn't respond to the bell itself but rather to the sound of the bell.
Although this is a totally obvious observation, I don't know that behavioral psychology has pursued it very much. For instance, I have never read of Pavlov experimenting to see if the dog would respond to the sight of his hand shaking the bell if the bell was silent, or to a recording of the bell without the visual stimulus. If both of these stimuli produced responses, one could then investigate which of the two was the most effective.
With human beings can use an instrument which is not available in experiments with animals -- namely, one can obtain information from the subjects awareness by asking questions. In this way, one can make determinations about the precise sensory information that produces a particular response which are much finer than merely knowing that the stimulus is primarily visual, auditory, or tactile.
As far as I know, behavioral therapists haven't made much use of this idea. But in NLP it's used a lot. In the videotape reviewed below, the subject's complaint is that, essentially, ``Certain behavior from my daughter makes me lose control.'' Connirae Andreas then devotes a lot of time to determining precisely what sensory information the subject responds to. Assuming initially that it is a visual image that is crucial, they explore the possibility that the image is that of a particular expression on the daughter's face, or a particular posture. But finally they discover that the primary stimulus is not visual at all, but auditory -- a particular tone of voice used by the daughter is what pushes the subject's buttons.
In addition, the belief in NLP is that what the subject responds to is not the original sensory information as received from the external world, but a transformed version of it produced by the brain. This is illustrated in the videotape as Connirae has the subject experiment with transforming her sensory representations in various ways -- for instance by ``zooming in'' on an image -- to see how that changes her emotional response.
The article that follows was originally posted in Setember, 1989.
-------------------------------------------------------------------- What follows is a much abridged transcript of a demonstration by Connirae Andreas as part of an NLP training seminar. Since it is a demonstration done for teaching purposes, it differs in several respects from work done in a more usual client session. This demonstration is shown on a videotape titled ``The Swish Pattern,'' copyright by NLP Comprehensive, Boulder CO 80301. The excerpt here is presented without permission.
This tape and the Cameron-Bandler tape ``Lasting Feelings'' show pretty much the two ends of the broad spectrum of approaches that are called NLP.
Connirae to subject: ``Is there a response you have that you don't like in a particular context?'' Subject: ``How my daughter pushes my buttons.''
Connirae: ``So teach me what you have to do inside your head to get your buttons pushed. A good place to start is to find out when it happens. Give me an example.'' The subject then identifies a particular posture and facial expression of her daughter, and demonstrates it.
Connirae to audience: ``So we have a general idea, but we still don't know specifically what she does to get this response.'' Connirae asks the subject to imagine somebody in the audience having the same posture & facial expression, and the subject agrees that that would not be sufficient to push her buttons. Connirae: ``What we need to know is: when she sees her daughter in that posture, what does she do to that picture on the inside that makes her have that emotional response? ... Because you [to subject] could probably see a sculpture of that, and it wouldn't get to you. [Subject agrees.] So what do you do in your head with the statue that's different than what you do when you see your daughter?'' Subject: ``It [the statue] is not talking.''
Conn: ``So what if Bob [in audience] does this and he talks... Is the voice tone different?'' Subj: ``It may be the voice tone that does it.''
Conn: [to audience, after some initial exploration]: ``... This is the sort of thing we humans do. That's what makes it interesting. It's like a whole new world in there when we finally discover: 'Oh, so that's how I get my buttons pushed.' It's not just the stimulus, it's what the person does with it.''
Subj: ``I zoom in on her face & her voice. Because [in that situation] she has this horrible sounding voice.'' (Demonstrates the voice.)
After having the subject imagine various things, they discover that in fact zooming in is only partly effective without the voice. They then try other visual changes (in brightness, distance, focus), but none of these produces the given response.
Connirae then begins exploring the auditory mode, which the subject asserts is very powerful. Raising the pitch strongly intensifies the response. Loudness seems to automatically increase along with pitch, but not vice-versa. I.e. pitch is a ``driver.'' (``Raising the pitch drives the whole ball of wax.'') Distance and tempo seem to have little effect.
As a test, Connirae has the client imagine doing the same thing with some other person: By raising the voice pitch and zooming in on the same unpleasant facial expression, the subject gets the problem response.
Now Connirae begins to design the intervention, instructing the subject: ``Imagine a quality of your own voice representing the you that you would be if you did not have this difficulty.'' (It's not the words but the voice quality that's at issue here.) ``Experiment by raising the pitch, changing the volume, changing the distance, to see what makes this voice more attractive to you (i.e. causes it to draw you more).'' (Connirae writes the results of all this exploration on the blackboard.) One quality that turns out to draw the subject strongly is having the voice be ``all around,'' as opposed to coming from a single point.
They then experiment more with the daughter's voice, and find that ``all around'' makes the subject's response more intense. Connirae decides that it will be more convenient to work with that quality rather than pitch. To audience: ``So now we have to figure out how to get her to move from the cue [for the problem response] to the voice representing the desired state, in a way that's easy for her brain to do. And to make that connection wired in.''
The intervention now is very fast. (In fact, it is essential that it be done fast in order to be effective.) The subject imagines her daughter's voice loud and high pitched and ``all around,'' and then quickly has that voice shrink down to a single point and then to nothingness, at the same time that the subject's own ideal voice expands from one point in space to be all surrounding. When she has finished doing this in her head, the subject is visibly pleased. She then repeats the process about ten times, faster and faster. At this point, the subject finds it difficult to get the original unpleasant voice back again.
Connirae then tests (``future paces'') by having the subject imagine/recall various extremely unpleasant situations with her daugher: the new response is compelling. Further testing shows that the subject is also now unable to get the old undesired response from the visual trigger.
Follow-up interviews were done after two weeks and after six months. The subject stated that her response was 100% different in situations where her daughter's voice used to drive her up the wall. She could now respond calmly and with choices instead of losing control. However, she discovered that there was yet another visual cue that sometimes occurred when her daughter was silent, and that this would initially cause her to respond in the old way, losing control. But now she could stop and realize that she had other choices and then do something to work things out.
The piece of work discussed here is a real tour de force, illustrating some of the basic ideas underlying the NLP submodalities approach. In most cases, though, the Swish Pattern is a quite straightforward technique, easy to learn and easy to use. It is discussed in Richard Bandler's book Using Your Brain -- for a Change and also in Change Your Mind and Keep the Change by Steve and Connirae Andreas. (I wish to hell they'd drop these new age titles, and the new age covers they put on these books. It makes it really hard to get therapists and academics to take them seriously.)
It is a poor sort of skepticism which merely delights in challenging those claims which conflict with one's own belief system. --Bogus quote