When grappling with finding the answer to a question, most people use one of the three dominant senses to seek the solution. If you ask people what their phone number was when they were twelve years old, three different people might use the three dominant senses of vision, hearing, and feeling. One might try to picture an image of the phone dial; one might try to remember the sound of the seven digits, as learned by rote as a small child; and the last may try to call the feeling of dialing that phone number. Notice that all three people were trying to remember an image, sound, or feeling from the past. But some thoughts involve creating new images, sounds, or feelings. Neurolinguists found they could determine both the operative representational system of their clients and whether they were constructing new images or remembering old ones before the clients even opened their mouth — by observing their eye movements.
There are seven basic types of eye movements, each of which corresponds to the use of a particular sensory apparatus. Please note that these “visual accessing cues” are for the average right-handed person; left-handers’ eyes ordinarily move to the opposite side. Also, “left-right” designations indicate the direction from the point of view of the observer.
1. Up-right: visually remembered images
2. Up-left: visually constructing [new] images
3. Straight-right: auditory remembered sounds or words
4. Straight-left: auditory constructed [new] sounds or words
5. Down-right: auditory sounds or words (often what is called an “inner dialogue”)
6. Down-left: kinesthetic feelings (which can include smell or taste)
7. There is one more type of movement, or better, nonmovement. You may ask someone a question and he will look straight ahead with no movement and with eyes glazed and defocused. This means that he is visually accessing information.
Try this on your friends. It works. There are more exceptions and complications, and this is an admittedly simplistic summary of the neurolinguists’ methodology. For example, if you ask someone to describe his first bicycle, you would expect an upward-right movement as the person tries to remember how the bike looked. If, however, the person imagined the bike as sitting in the bowling alley where you are now sitting, the eyes might move up-left, as your friend is constructing a new image with an old object. The best way to find out is to ask your friend how he tried to conjure up the answer.
Neurolinguistics is still a new and largely untested field, but it is fascinating. Most of the information in this chapter was borrowed from the work of Richard Bandler and John Grinder. If you’d like to learn more about the subject, we’d recommend their book frogs into Princes [sic].
Most people tend to look up when thinking because they try to answer questions by visualizing the answers.