Will Polygraphs Go Away? Why or Why Not

For as long as people lie, the quest for the truth shall prevail. A polygraph, which has an accuracy rate of 80% to 90%, is set to get more and more accurate.

Polygraphs are unlikely to go away. Scientists are future-proofing lie detector exams by including in the truth-telling process things such as facial muscle movements and brain activity. Eventually, polygraphs may be carried out by robots to prevent contamination as a result of incompetence on the part of human polygraphers or polygraph examiners.

A psychology professor at the University of Portsmouth says that people can detect truthfulness 44% of the time and detect deception 67% of the time. Soon, we may be able to leave the task altogether to polygraphy.

Read on to know what it’s like for police officers, investigators and employers to conduct lie detectors for investigations or pre-employment screenings in the future.

brain scan

Brain Scans

Most people know what an MRI is. Short for magnetic resonance imaging, it’s a diagnostic procedure that makes it possible for medical professionals to obtain structural images of the body’s tissues and organs.

A form of an MRI exists that takes a look at the functions of an internal structure rather than the shape or form. And it’s what’s referred to as an fMRI — the “f” stands for “functional”. It’s commonly used to detect brain activity, which makes the procedure effective in detecting deception.

What’s really amazing about an fMRI as a truth-telling method is that it has a 100% accuracy rate. So, in other words, because it can correctly identify deceitful people at all times, it’s completely infallible.

The way an fMRI works in determining whether or not an individual is truthful is this: it monitors areas of the brain involved in deception to check for an increase in blood flow, which signifies lying.

Alas, as of this writing, the use of fMRI for verifying truthfulness has yet to achieve general acceptance in the scientific community. Another thing that’s keeping fMRI from being favored by police officers and criminal investigators over a conventional polygraph is the fact that the key component of the examination is expensive and cumbersome.

Some of the most compact MRI machines these days weigh around 15,000 pounds — the biggest models of the bunch can be anywhere from 44,000 pounds to as heavy as 83,000! Other than the weight, the size of the instrument is also a detriment. If fMRI were to replace a computerized polygraph, an entire room would have to be dedicated to it.

And did I already mention that some of the cheapest MRI machines cost around $100,000?

Facial Muscle Movements

When creating a report, a polygraph examiner does not consider only the chart generated — he or she also takes into account the non-verbal communication cues exhibited by the subject during the lie detector test.

And some of those that can prove to be valuable in making a diagnosis are facial expressions.

In the world of polygraphy, there are the so-called micro-expressions. Simply put, they are involuntary facial expressions that humans make when experiencing an emotion, such as something that can be easily associated with lying like guilt, fear or even delight. The word “micro” is in the name because micro-expressions last only for a short moment.

While micro-expressions typically last only for a fraction of a second, they can also be as long as 4 seconds at times, although not long enough for an examiner who isn’t particularly observant and detail-oriented to catch.

Professors at Tel Aviv University in Israel have developed a lie detection method that banks on micro-expressions to tell apart honest people and deceitful ones. The software and algorithm used for the said examination, which is still in its developmental stages, is said to be able to detect lies up to 73% of the time.

A polygraph test entails attaching sensors to various parts of the examinee’s body.

Meanwhile, the brainchild of Tel Aviv University’s professors involves sticking small electrodes on various landmarks on the face of the subject. A scanner is then used to make sure that the system catches every single micro-expression that the examinee’s face involuntarily makes when lying.

robot examiner

Robot Examiners

There are many things that can influence the result of a lie detector test. And if you think that the only thing that can contaminate the examination is the subject, specifically through the use of countermeasures, think again. In some instances, an error can be blamed on the one who is conducting the test — the examiner.

Improper training and a lack of experience can keep the examiner from administering a polygraph test well.

Just about anything from failure to orient the subject during the pre-test phase appropriately, badly formulating and wording the yes or no questions to poorly evaluating the chart can affect the outcome.

According to a report by the Washington Times, a study by the National Center for Credibility Assessment (NCCA), which used to be a US Army program designed to teach the proper administration of polygraph examinations, suggests that computers may be able to deliver and analyze lie detector tests in the future.

In an experiment involving US Army members, the subjects were strapped to a traditional polygraph machine. While it’s a human that attached the sensors of the instrument to the different body parts of the examinees, it was a digital avatar that conducted the examination proper.

Needless to say, the yes or no questions were asked by a computer-generated examiner.

The experiment revealed that the subjects were significantly more likely to tell the truth when answering questions that have something to do with alcohol consumption and mental health issues. On the other hand, it was realized that responses to questions about drug use and criminal charges were about the same as the test being conducted by a human.

According to the scientists behind the experiment, a computer-based administration of a lie detector exam could prove to be useful for certain purposes such as applications for security clearances. Without the avatar manipulating the subjects for them to confess, which is actually being done by some actual examiners, results can be more accurate.

Just Before Polygraphs Evolve

It’s very much unlikely for polygraphs to go away sooner or later. Because there will always be the quest for the law as well as certain government agencies and private companies to find out the truth by authenticating the veracity of what people say, there is the certainty that it will remain a part of the justice system (in some states) and employment process.

However, as early as now, there are signs that lie detection will undergo some much-needed facelifts, thus making it more accurate and reliable — so much so that its use tomorrow could have far more applications than today.

Related Questions

Can you pass a polygraph when lying?

It’s possible for a deceitful subject to pass a polygraph examination. Because a lie detector machine, despite its name, does not detect actual lies but physiological changes that can be attributed to telling a lie, among a handful of things, a guilty examinee who remains calm may pass his or her polygraph test.

What are my chances of failing a polygraph exam?

According to proponents, a lie detector test can have an accuracy rate of up to 90%. So, in other words, the truth-telling procedure can be 10% wrong all the time. This means that there is a possibility for 1 out of every 10 people who take a polygraph exam to get either a false positive or false negative result.

Read Next: 6 Modern Polygraph Alternatives

Disclaimer: The content is intended for informational purposes only and does not contain advice on criminal and investigative questions and inquiries. If you need professional help, please check with your state authorities.

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