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Right direction, or left behind?

By on August 16, 2014

In NLP we have a wonderful model of gestural meaning based on left and right mapped onto the client’s time-line. For a ‘normally organized’ person the past is on their left (or behind) and the future on their right (or straight ahead).

As practitioners we see this organization ALL the time, so that it becomes second nature to think of this model as being ‘true’.

But there are other models out there that have equal validity. One that we also see as practitioners involves positive to the right and negative to the left. Personally I have always linked this to the time-line, so the typical client comes in with a problem, which has been occurring in their past, and a wish to change that they put in their future. So left = past = problem and right = future = positive outcome.

In fact, so ingrained is this right = future = positive association for us that we teach our students to sit somewhat on the client’s right hand side so they can better direct resources into their future space.

So I was delighted to read the study below analyzing the preference of four presidential candidates between left and right gestures and positive or negative statements. Two pairs of candidates were studied, Bush and Kerry (both right-handers) and Obama-McCain (both left handers). The results showed a small but definite tendency for the candidates to gesture with their dominant hand for positive statements and non-dominant hand for negative statements. So for example, a right-hander would be more likely to use their right hand to gesture when making a positive statement and their left hand for a negative statement.

It has certainly piqued my curiosity enough to watch out in the future for positive statements about the past and fears about the future! Here is the article:


Body Language Hand Gestures Article

Across languages and cultures, good things are conventionally associated with the right, and bad things with the left. This link is evident in English idioms with positive emotional valence like the right answer and my right hand man, and idioms with negative valence like out in left field and two left feet. The Latin words for right and left, dexter and sinister, form the roots of English words meaning skillful and evil, respectively. The words for right in French (droite) and in German (Recht) are closely related to the words meaning a ‘right’ or privilege accorded by the law, whereas the words for left in French (gauche) and German (Links) are related to words meaning distasteful or clumsy. Body Language Hand Gestures Article


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