Polygraph Essay

Psychology of the Polygraph Test

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Psychology of the Polygraph Test

The polygraph test, introduced nearly a century ago, has been widely used in the detection of deception and for some time, has been considered by law enforcement representatives, an exceptionally valid testing apparatus. The media and law enforcement representatives describe the various methods of detecting deception to be extremely valid and reliable in detecting deceptive cues, although the various research done through field studies and controlled experiments demonstrate significant error rates amongst the various testing procedures used. Physiological responses of an individual may vary from person to person. No matter how small the error rate may be, there is always a chance that environmental conditions as well as physiological conditions induced by the individual or the interpreter can have an effect on the interpretational conclusion of what were considered to be deceptive cues. These influential factors may illustrate a small positive or negative error rate, but when the conclusion is applied to a conviction, it can possibly establish or distinguish false results to be accurate or inconclusive.
The implausibility of the various methods of the detection of deception poses an immense threat to the innocent. When we apply these results to a defendant on trial, these "false results" can be extremely detrimental to the case. False results can possibly allow the guilty to be liberated and the innocent to become incarcerated. The only way we can apply these tests and use the results as court evidence is if we can make the testing procedures 100% reliable. But, as research shows us, because of the numerous influential environmental, psychological, social, and physiological factors that can damage the validity of the results, the test results will remain obsolete in the eyes of the court.
Employment and interpretations of the polygraph poses as the greatest threat to the testing subject. It is generally agreed upon psychophysiologist's that there is no specific lie response. Basically, no specific action has been identified and allocated as an irrepressible deceptive cue. This seems to be very contradicting to the whole purpose of the polygraph test. The fact that the polygraph is wide open to interpretation crates invalidity from the start.
Although alterations have been made to protect the validity an minimize the error of the polygraph, the results are still dependant of the subjects physiological response. Although research has shown that these alterations do in fact minimize the inaccuracy of the results, no matter what changes are made, there is still a minimal possibility that one can wittingly breach the barriers.

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Even with the alterations the results however, are still open to interpretation. The possible bias of the interpreter that precedes the initial tests can be a confounding factor as well. The fact that there is no way to control ones interpretation is an open highway for error. Until science can uncover an unbiased and standardized approach to the interpretation of what specifically constitutes as a deceptive cue, I feel that polygraphs should not be used or held in favor as evidence in the court of law.

tests might elicit admissions to acts not central to the intent of the question and these answers might be judged either as successes or failures of the test. In this regard, we have seen no indication of a clear and stable agreement on criteria for judging answers to security screening polygraph questions in any agency using them.

The use of polygraph testing for preemployment screening is even more complicated because it involves inferences about future behavior on the basis of information about past behaviors that may be quite different (e.g., does past use of illegal drugs, or lying about such use on a polygraph test, predict future spying?).

The committee’s charge was specifically “to conduct a scientific review of the research on polygraph examinations that pertains to their validity and reliability, in particular for personnel security screening,” that is, for the second and third purposes. We have focused mainly on validity because a test that is reliable (i.e., produces consistent outcomes) has little use unless it is also valid (i.e., measures what it is supposed to measure). Virtually all the available scientific evidence on polygraph test validity comes from studies of specific-event investigations, so the committee had to rely heavily on that evidence, in addition to the few available studies that are relevant for screening. The general quality of the evidence for judging polygraph validity is relatively low: the substantial majority of the studies most relevant for this purpose were below the quality level typically needed for funding by the National Science Foundation or the National Institutes of Health.


Basic Science

Almost a century of research in scientific psychology and physiology provides little basis for the expectation that a polygraph test could have extremely high accuracy. Although psychological states often associated with deception (e.g., fear of being judged deceptive) do tend to affect the physiological responses that the polygraph measures, these same states can arise in the absence of deception. Moreover, many other psychological and physiological factors (e.g., anxiety about being tested) also affect those responses. Such phenomena make polygraph testing intrinsically susceptible to producing erroneous results. This inherent ambiguity of the physiological measures used in the polygraph suggests that further investments in improving polygraph technique and interpretation will bring only modest improvements in accuracy.

Polygraph research has not developed and tested theories of the underlying factors that produce the observed responses. Factors other than truthfulness that affect the physiological responses being measured can


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