Reevaluating the Lie Detector Test

By Bromley, Anne | Developments in Mental Health Law, July-December 1988 | Go to article overview

Reevaluating the Lie Detector Test


Bromley, Anne, Developments in Mental Health Law


A woman applies for a job with a county police department and is told she must take a polygraph test to be considered. During the testing she is asked the following questions: Have you ever had an affair? Have you ever participated in an orgy? Have you ever had sex with a dog? We know everyone has sexual fantasies, what are yours?

Sound far-fetched? This happened in Prince William County, Virginia, last year. The Virginia Polygraph Examiners Advisory Board is now investigating the woman's complaint along with seven others that are similar.

Although new regulations were added to those existing for polygraph examiners by the Virginia Department of Commerce, effective September 1, 1988, state and local government agencies remain exempt from the prohibition of asking questions about sex. This exception may prove to be an unfortunate defect in what are otherwise thorough and sound guidelines.

These events have taken place after a long Congressional battle was won to limit the use of the polygraph and a new law passed just this summer. Although this will eliminate almost all preemployment and routine tests by private employers, government agencies and security and drug-related industries remain exempt as long as they do not violate state laws.

This recent legislation may cause one to ask how the polygraph works and why it is so controversial that lawmakers have restricted the conditions under which it can be used.

The polygraph: does it work?

Although its results can be innocuous or devastating, the polygraph simply measures physiological reactions which are supposed to indicate deception to an examiner. The polygraph instrument doesn't actually reveal whether someone is lying or telling the truth. There are no known physiological reactions unique to lying, although societies through the ages have tried various physical tests to prove the truth. For instance, "the Bedouins of Arabia passed a heated blade across the tongue of a suspected liar. If innocent, he would be salivating normally and his tongue would be unburned; if lying, his tongue would be scorched." (1)

The rate and depth of respiration, cardiovascular activity, and galvanic skin response (or perspiration of the fingertips), which are measured by the polygraph instrument, can be attributed to anxiety, anger, fear or humiliation as well as deception. A recent report from the Office of Technological Assessment (OTA) observes that just "being required to take a polygraph test elicits precisely these feelings in many people." (2)

Researchers in the fields of psychiatry and psychology recognize that some types of lying are part of normal development, but the phenomenon is not well understood. Guilty psychopaths or antisocial subjects may escape detection, while innocent neurotics or psychotics will more often be identified as deceptive. The polygraph in particular has not been studied extensively by many psychologists. In 1984, psychologist Benjamin Kleinmuntz declared that "psychology is giving away a socially important tool by default." (3)

The American Psychological Association testified last spring before the House of Representatives that there is no scientific basis for using polygraph testing to screen job applicants, finding the high rate of false positives, where innocent people can be found deceptive, unacceptable. Psychologist Edward Katkin told a subcommittee of the Education and Labor Committee that the polygraph test does not conform to APA's standards, citing poor training of examiners as one reason.

In their 1983 report, "Scientific Validity of Polygraph Testing," the OTA concluded that

   there is some evidence for the validity of polygraph
   testing as an adjunct to typical criminal investigations
   of specific incidents, and more limited evidence when
   such investigations extend to incidents of unauthorized
   disclosure. However, there is very little research or
   scientific evidence to establish polygraph testing validity
   in large-scale screening as part of unauthorized
   disclosure investigations, or in personnel security
   screening situations, whether they be preemployment,
   preclearance, periodic or aperiodic, random, or
   'dragnet. … 

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Reevaluating the Lie Detector Test
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.