Why do people look up when thinking?

Medical doctors have a really nasty habit. You pose them a particularly tough Imponderable and they answer, “I don’t know.” Most medical and scientific research is done on topics that seem likely to yield results that can actually help clinicians with their everyday problems. Determining why people look up when thinking doesn’t seem to be a matter of earth-shaking priority.

Ironically, some serious psychologists have decided that this question is important; have found what they think is a solution to the Imponderable and, most amazingly, found a very practical application for this new information. These psychologists are known as neurolinguists.

Neurolinguists believe that many of our problems in human interaction stem from listeners not understanding the frame of reference of the people speaking to them. Neurolinguists have found that most people tend to view life largely through one dominant sense-----usually sight, hearing, or touching. There are many clues to the sensory orientation of a person, the most obvious being his or her choice of words in explaining thoughts and feelings.

Two people with varying sensory orientation might use totally different verbs, adjectives and adverbs to describe exactly the same meaning. For example, a hearing-oriented person might say, “I hear what you’re saying, but, I don’t like the sound of your voice.” The visually-oriented person might say, “I see what you mean, but, I think your real attitude is crystal clear.” Now, the touch-oriented person (neurolinguists call them kinesthetics) would be more likely to say, “I feel good about what you are saying, but, your words seem out of touch with your real attitude.”

Neurolinguistically trained psychologists have found that they can better understand and assist clients once they have determined the clients dominant sense (what they call the client’s representational system).

All three of the above quotes meant the same thing: “I understand you, but your words belie your true emotions.” Neurolinguists adapt their choice of words to the representational system of the client, and they have found that it has been a boom to establishing client trust and to creating a verbal shorthand between psychologist and patient. Any feeling that can be expressed visually can be expressed kinesthetically or auditorily as well, so the psychologist merely comes to the patient rather than having the patient come to the psychologist---------it helps eliminate language itself as a barrier to communications.

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 home phone number was when they were twelve years old, three different people might use the three different 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 recall 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 images, sounds, or feelings.

Neurolinguists found they could determine both the operative representational system of their client and whether they were constructing new images or remembering old ones before the client even opened their mouths-----simply by observing their eye movements!

These eye movements have now been codified. 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” designation indicates the direction from the point of view of the observer.

Direction : Thought Process

      up-right : visually remembered images

      up-left : visually constructing [new] images

      straight-right : auditory remember sounds or words

      straight-left : auditory constructed [news] sounds/words

      down-right : auditory sounds or words (“inner dialog”)

      down-left : kinesthetic feelings (which can include smell or taste)

However, 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 really works!

There are more exceptions and complications, and this is an admittedly simplistic summary of the complicated neurolinguists’ methodology. For example, if you ask someone to describe his first bicycle, you would expect an up-ward movement as the person tries to remember how the bike looked. If, however, the person imagines the bike as sitting in the bowling alley where you both 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 a fascinating one to say the least. 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, and we encourage you young people to do so, we’d recommend their book frogs into Princes (sic).

Now, to get back to the original Imponderable----why do people tend to look up when thinking? The answer seems to be, and it is defiantly confirmed by our experiments with many friends, that most of us, a good part of the time, try to answer questions asked of us by visualizing the answers.

Source: IMPONDERABLES by: David Feldman
The Solutions to the Mysteries of Everyday Life
Copyright @ 1986 by David Feldman pgs.55-58

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