Rapport Magazine Article - Behavioural Modelling

mBraining NLP: Neuroscience Guided Behavioural Modelling Research

By Grant Soosalu (M.App.Sc., B.Sc.(Hons), Grad. Dip. Psych, INLPTA Master Practitioner)

[Published in the October 2013 edition of Rapport Magazine, p. 44]

Moving from theory to practice

This article explores how you can use NLP Modelling as part of a research process moving from initial idea, through critical review of literature, to theory hypothesis and modelling of new techniques in an action research framework to test out new tools in practice, before offering them out in a practice context.

In his article ‘A Proposed Distinction for Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP)’ [Grinder & Bostic St. Clair, 2005], John Grinder makes an interesting and useful distinction between what he calls NLP modelling and Analytic modelling. According to John, NLP modelling contrasts with Analytic modelling in that it requires a process of unconscious modelling in which “cognitive representations be systematically suspended during the unconscious assimilation phase”. His article presents these two forms of modelling as somewhat exclusive, however, I’d like to suggest that for many modelling projects, the two forms can work synergistically together as a hybrid process and in so doing, provide a mechanism by which new findings and discoveries in Neuroscience and associated fields such as Cognitive Psychology can be used to deeply inform the modelling process within a research informed framework.

This edition of the research series will explore this is by describing the process in action with reference to a real-world example.

The development of mBIT – multiple Brain Integration Techniques

Approximately three years ago, in conjunction with my colleague Marvin Oka, I decided to undertake a behavioural modelling project on the competencies of the cardiac and enteric brains. Research from the field of Neuroscience had over the last decade, uncovered that we have complex, functional and adaptive neural networks in the regions of our heart and gut. These neural networks exhibit memory, complex processing and a level of intelligence in their functioning, independent of the head brain. Out of this work has grown the fields of Neurocardiology and Neurogastroenterology, for example, one of the leaders in the field of Neurogastroenterology, Prof. Michael Gershon explicated the ground-breaking work on the enteric brain in his fascinating book, ‘The Second Brain: Your Gut Has a Mind of Its Own’.

While much work has been done by scientists on the heart and gut brains and their functions, it is very early days, and a lot of the research is done in isolation and published as separate and unintegrated findings. More importantly, it is currently too early for high level empirical, positivistic science to be able to go places that behavioural modelling can. So there was a great opportunity to create a synthesis of the disparate findings and use that and the underlying neuroscience insights to direct the behavioural modelling work.

I began by doing a wide and extensive literature search on the cardiac and enteric nervous systems and brains. I also utilised findings and research on neural networks to determine what we know scientifically about the nature and behaviour of neural networks. This allowed me to begin to refine the sorts of questions and directions I used to perform further analysis of the scientific literature. In doing this, I was also guided by the processes used in the early days of neuroscience. Before we had fMRI and PET scanners, neurologists and neuroscientists explored the functional characteristics of different areas of the head brain by looking at the behavioural and functional deficits that occurred when there was pathology or damage to specific areas of the brain. A paradigmatic example of this is the case of Phineas Gage.

In 1848, Phineas, 25, was the foreman of a crew cutting a railroad in Cavendish, Vermont, USA. On September 13, while using a tamping iron to pack explosive into a hole, the powder accidently detonated and the 43 inch long tamping iron shot upwards through his left cheek, ripped into his brain and exited through his skull destroying the left frontal lobe. Phineas survived and lived for another 13 years after the accident, holding down jobs as a stable hand and a stagecoach driver. And while his intellectual functions remained relatively normal, his personality however was unutterably changed. Friends who knew him said that “Gage was no longer Gage”. He had become incredibly dis-inhibited, and the evidence of his personality change, along with that from a large number of other patients with damage to the same area of the brain, was used to begin to determine the functions subserved by that area of the brain.

So I applied the same logic processes. I looked for pathologies, damage and interventions that impacted the heart or gut areas to see what research had found. For example, I searched for and found research on personality changes after Gastric Banding. A number of studies [see for example, Larsen and Torgersen 1989, Bull et al. 1983, Naish 2008] have found statistically significant changes to specific personality factors, and these changes happen very quickly after the banding intervention, long before any possible effects of weight loss on body image and consequent self-esteem can occur.

Other examples are the effects of Inflammatory Bowel Disorders [e.g. Vianna 2005, Vianna et al. 2006] on various psychological states and competencies in the active or flare-up states versus passive phases of the diseases. In terms of the heart, there is research on psychological and emotional changes after open-heart surgery, bypass surgery and heart-attacks [e.g. Pick 2008, Wascher 2009]. And there are also studies on personality changes after heart transplants [e.g. Pearsall et al. 2000, Burgess F. 2008]. These are just a small sample to show the sorts of research evidence that is available and can point to the types of competencies that each neural network may be involved in.

Along with biological, medical and neurological research, I also examined evidence from fields such as Cognitive Linguistics. This field, lead initially by the seminal work of Professor George Lakoff and Dr. Mark Johnson, has demonstrated that much of language and thought is grounded in metaphor and that metaphor and associated aspects of mind are embodied. By examining the metaphors and linguistics that relate to the heart and gut, in common parlance, and across various languages and cultures, we can begin to get indicators of the competencies that are embodied by the heart and gut brains.

Of course, as NLP’ers we can also do Neuro-Linguistic analysis of common sayings and expressions. To do this I used the Internet as a resource to do ‘linguistic corpus analysis’ and thereby unpack and infer the underlying neurological processes and competencies that are being referenced by the words people use.

Ultimately, using research findings from:

  • Embryological development,

  • Evolutionary development,

  • Neurocardiology,

  • Neurogastroenterology,

  • Neurological evidence from each brain network,

  • Functional disorders and pathologies of the brain regions,

  • Neuro-Linguistic analysis of common sayings, folk wisdom and web based linguistic corpora,

  • Cognitive linguistic research on conceptual metaphor,

  • Anthropological research on spiritual traditions, and

  • Evidence from non-traditional fields such as Chinese Medicine, Taoism, Enneagram, etc.

I was able to perform a common-factor analysis in order to gather the convergent evidence from these widely divergent fields to produce a list of Prime Functions and Core Competencies of each of the brains.

These lists then informed the behavioural modelling process, within an action research framework. For example, forgiveness is a core competency of the heart brain. So this became a focus for modelling. We found exemplars of deep forgiveness and did both analytic and unconscious modelling work with the theories to evolve the new mBIT framework. What we uncovered was both fascinating and powerful. While most people assume that forgiveness is based at the heart level, and certainly our examination of the research and factor analysis indicated that, what we found is that in real-life, people who are ‘experts’ at forgiveness, do their forgiving using all three brains; true and deep forgiveness requires integrated forgiving at the head, heart and most importantly at the deep gut level.

Another example was modelling the competency of Courage: highlighted by our research as a process that strongly involved the gut brain. In common linguistic parlance we talk about courageous people as being ‘gutsy’ and ‘having guts’. Certainly the gut is strongly involved in representing fear and it’s converse ‘the courage to push through the fear’. Yet in our modelling work we found that courage once again involved a deep integration across all three brains, and as indicated by its etymology ‘en-cor’ (of the heart), it requires a strong link to heart-based values in order to motivate the gut brain to push from the back through the fear which is normally felt in the front of the gut.

Without having used the scientific and neuroscientific evidence to determine what competencies to do behavioural modelling on, it would have been difficult to know where to begin and what exemplars and models I needed to find, showing the need to be research informed. Knowing we had ‘brains’ in our heart and gut areas was not sufficient to determine a cohesive and comprehensive list of competencies and functions to do the unconscious modelling on.

When the early developers of NLP first started doing behavioural modelling of the various competencies that formed the basis of the field, they unfortunately did not have access to the incredible body of knowledge that neuroscience has generated over the last 30 years. Now fMRI and PET scanner time is relatively inexpensive and available. Access to scientific papers and published research findings is far more readily available via the web. And we are using this incredible body of knowledge to perform a hybrid form of behavioural modelling that melds science, analytic modelling and unconscious modelling to really move the field forward in powerful ways, using the power of NLP to drive the developments, within a research paradigm to promote credibility and offer the techniques to peer critique.

If you’d like to learn more about the models and techniques that we uncovered in our 2.5 years of work on the heart and gut brains, and how to tap into their innate and intuitive intelligences to produce greater generative wisdom in life, then please take a look at our website www.mbraining.com and our book ‘mBraining – Using your multiple brains to do cool stuff’. This work demonstrates an important and pragmatic use of science from a range of research paradigms to guide behavioural modelling and I hope you found my description of the process useful for your own ongoing efforts.


Bull R. H., Engels, W. D., Engelsmann, F. and Bloom L., Behavioural changes following gastric surgery for morbid obesity: A prospective, controlled study, Journal of Psychosomatic Research, Volume 27, Issue 6, 457–467, 1983

Burgess F.D., A Change of Heart: Personality Metamorphosis After a Heart Transplant, Associated Content, Web, Jul 20, 2008

Gershon, M., The Second Brain: A Groundbreaking New Understanding of Nervous Disorders of the Stomach and Intestine, Harper, 2003

Grinder, J. & Bostic St. Clair, C., A Proposed Distinction for Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), NLP University Website, 2005, http://www.nlpu.com/Articles/essarticle.htm

Kendra C., Phineas Gage - An Astonishing Case of Brain Injury, About.com Psychology Guide, Accessed April 2013, http://psychology.about.com/od/historyofpsychology/a/phineas-gage.htm

Larsen F. and Torgersen S., Personality changes after gastric banding surgery for morbid obesity. A prospective study, J Psychosom Res., 33(3):323-34, 1989

Naish, J., The psychological effects of gastric bands and stomach stapling, The Times, July 12, 2008

Pearsall P., Schwartz G. and Russek L., Changes in heart transplant recipients that parallel the personalities of their donors, Integr Med. 2(2):65-72, Mar 21, 2000

Pick A., Emotional And Behavioral Changes After Heart Surgery, The Patients Guide to Heart Valve Surgery, Web, Sep 12, 2008

Vianna E., The role of the gut in emotions and feelings, PhD Dissertation, University of Iowa, http://gradworks.umi.com/32/02/3202971.html, 2005

Vianna, E.P.M., Weinstock, J., Elliott, D., Summers, R., & Tranel, D., Increased feelings with increased body signals, SCAN, 1, 37-48, 2006

Wascher R. A., Depression, Stress, Anger & Heart Disease: A critical weekly review of important new research findings, Health Report, Mar 15, 2009

Grant Soosalu (M.App.Sc., B.Sc.(Hons), Grad. Dip. Psych, NLP Master Practitioner, Certified Master Behavioral Modeler) is an experienced Trainer, Leadership Consultant and Executive Coach with extensive backgrounds in Organisational Change, Training and Leadership Development. He has advanced degrees and certifications in Applied Physics, Psychology, Positive Psychology, Computer Engineering and System Development. He is a qualified Total Quality Management (TQM) Trainer, and has achieved Master Practitioner Certification in the behavioural sciences of NLP and Advanced Behavioral Modeling. More recently Grant was awarded a Graduate Coaching Diploma in the newly emerging field of Authentic Happiness Coaching.

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