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Reindeer and Polar Bears, and Norwegians, Oh My!

By on October 5, 2014
Courtesy Hal Brindley and

There is an important point to the story that follows, but you have to ‘bear’ with me through the comic piece to get there. You see, being a highly visual person, if I read about something, a piece of research perhaps, my brain automatically begins making pictures and movies to illustrate what I’m reading. So I laughed out loud when I pictured the research linked below.

So there are these crazy Norwegian researchers, and they decide they want to test the responses of reindeer to threats. How would the reindeer respond to the approach of a human being, compared to say, oh I don’t know, a polar bear perhaps? Not having a trained polar bear at hand to help with the experiment, the Norwegians first had one of their team approach a herd of reindeer dressed as a Norwegian. They then had a researcher dress up as a polar bear and approach the same reindeer from the same direction (I’m not making this stuff up). The researchers measured the point at which the reindeer got spooked and ran away.

Not surprisingly they found that reindeer are more easily spooked by Norwegians dressed as polar bears, than by Norwegians dressed as Norwegians. And who wouldn’t be?

Nonsensical and apparently irrelevant (at least to anyone other than a Norwegian animal impersonator) as this research is, it does illustrate an important point that we use in NLP all the time. That point is that the closer a threat approaches to you (or to a reindeer, or to your client), the more intense your emotional reaction will be.

This is one of the key principles of using NLP submodalities. Submodalities are the finer distinctions of internal sensory experiences (sensory experiences such as the pictures we make inside our minds). With the visual sense, submodalities include things such as how close a picture is, how big it is, how bright it is and whether it is moving toward us or away from us. Now size and brightness are both ‘proxies’ for closeness, meaning the closer an object is the bigger it appears in our visual field and the brighter it appears because more light from the object hits our eye.

So for a dangerous object such as a Norwegian dressed as a polar bear, the closer, bigger and brighter it is, and the direction of it’s movement (toward or away from us) determines how spooked the reindeer becomes. And for a hypnosis client, the closer, bigger, and brighter an internal picture of a negative memory or other experience is, and if it is moving toward the client, the worse the client will feel.

We use this principle in many NLP and hypnosis techniques such as the swish pattern. In the swish, the negative stimulus picture is typically moved away from the hypnosis client, so that it becomes further away, small and darker, and the positive replacement picture moves toward the client so it becomes closer, bigger and brighter.

Imagine attaching a giant elastic rope to the Norwegian dressed as a polar bear, so that when the reindeer notices him, he is immediately yanked away, and in his place we catapult a large bundle of fresh tasty hay and you will get the idea!

Here is a link to the research, for those readers in need of comic relief:

Due to observed interactions between Svalbard reindeer (Rangifer tarandus platyrhynchus) and polar bears (Ursus maritimus) during field work on Edgeøya, Svalbard, we measured response distances for reindeer from… a person disguised as a polar bear. Via

Photo courtesy Hal Brindley and

The CafeHypno Editorial Team

Sarah Carson, Jess Marion and Shawn Carson

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