The Major Sensory Characteristics of the Representational Systems or “Modalities”
In Hemispheric Integration and Neuro-linguistic Programming we refer to each of the major sensory representational systems as a “modality.” For example: The eyes are the organs which receive light, convert the light to nerve impulses, which are then interpreted by the brain into what we call “pictures.” Your brain is what makes the pictures, not your eyes. We call this the “visual system or visual modality.”
Each sensory modality best represents that aspect of the world to which it corresponds directly. People often get into trouble by representing an experience with the inappropriate sensory system. For instance, if the task is to select people to answer telephones in a customer service department and to have them interface with customers auditorily (sounds, words), then choosing an auditory screening method is much more effective than using a visual one. Another consideration is knowing the prospective incoming callers and what modality they are most likely to be more comfortable with, then matching those who will be answering the calls to that modality. The funny thing is, if an employer primarily process in the “visual” modality she would probably screen applicants for such a job with an unconscious preference toward visual characteristics: neatness of attire, grooming, and gestures, etc., rather than by listening to the applicants voice, tonality, pitch, and breathing rhythm.
The major modalities include: Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic, Gustatory, and Olfactory. The last two are often referenced with the Kinesthetic system for simplicity.
Secondary versus Primary Experience
“Digital” or word descriptions, are secondary experience: They describe something that exists in another form. As such, they always contain much less information than the raw primary experience (such as a picture or song) which they describe. “The Map is not the Territory.”
Auditory digital (talking to one’s self) is particularly good as a kind of filing system – for keeping track of experiences, categorizing experiences, or for making plans and setting a direction.
Strategies often begin with an auditory digital question that the rest of the sequence is designed to answer. Examples include:
- “What do I want to eat?”
- “What do I want to learn?”
- “How can I chunk this task down?”
- “What would be fun to do?”
Auditory digital is also good for summarizing, for providing a running commentary on the raw data, or a conclusion. Such as:
- “That’s a good idea.”
- “Yes.” (or “No.”)
- “That one is too expensive.”
- “You’ve GOT to be kidding!”
Auditory tonal can add impact to the evaluative comment and can help flesh out the raw data considered. Examples are tonal expressions such as “Hmm,” “Arrgh,” “Phew,” etc.
Unique Characteristics of Each Modality
Each major representational system has its unique qualities. The visual system can represent an enormous amount of data simultaneously and instantaneously.
The auditory system is sequential, meaning that whatever data is processed is done sequentially one item at a time. Thus, any auditory processing inevitably takes somewhat longer than visual processing.
The kinesthetic system has much more duration than the other two. You can change internal pictures very quickly, change a sound fairly quickly, and feelings change much more slowly. This is because of the physiological inertia of the kinesthetic system. If you have ever gotten angry and then discovered that you misinterpreted the reason for your anger, you know that the physiology of anger took a few seconds to diminish to normal levels. You didn’t go from “anger” to “laughter” instantly. This is simply because it takes longer to change your internal chemistry.
These tempo differences are clearly demonstrated by people with extreme representational system preferences: Imagine a quick visual person, a slow kinesthetically inclined person, and an intermediately paced auditory person in a room together and ask each of them for directions to Disneyland!
It’s difficult to fully represent the outcome of a strategy using only sounds, words, or feelings. The visual system is usually essential. You can see different pictures of several possibilities simultaneously, make direct comparisons, or see a sequence of steps all at once. You could even make one picture of all the different steps you need to take to accomplish an outcome. If you had to run through all those steps kinesthetically (physically), or describe the steps auditorily, it would take much longer.
All systems together give you a full representation and information much more than any one or two systems. One of the main benefits derived from studying neuro-linguistics is fine- tuning our awareness and access to all systems easily and automatically.
Kinesthetic tactile (touch, temperature) and kinesthetic proprioceptive (body position, visceral sensations, movement) can help provide important raw data in a strategy involving the body.
Kinesthetic Meta (emotions – “I feel happy.” “I’m confused.” “that was good.”) is the primary way people evaluate internal experience.
This article was written by Al Sargent and Marilyn Sargent of Success Design International. They are the authors of the Spencer Institute’s Life Strategies Coach Certification and the Results Coach Certification.
If you found this article helpful, you will want to click over it and get more information on how to use this in a coaching setting. For more information on Al and Marilyn, visit www.repoweryourlife.com