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Polygraph FAQ



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Polygraph FAQ

  1. Why is AntiPolygraph.org dedicated to the abolishment of polygraph "testing?"
     
  2. I have seen polygraph proponents claim that polygraph testing is 95-99% accurate. On what are claims like this based?
     
  3. I recently took a polygraph "test," and failed, despite having told the truth on all questions. How could this have happened?
     
  4. I have a chronic medical condition. Could this affect my polygraph results?
     
  5. Can polygraph "tests" be beaten? Must one be a sociopathic liar or "believe one's own lies" to do so?
     
  6. How exactly are polygraphs supposed to work?
     
  7. I'm still not following you. Can you explain further? How do polygraphers determine truth or deception? How is the "test" scored?
     
  8. If the polygraph is so inaccurate, why do government agencies like the FBI, CIA, DEA, and Secret Service still use it?
     
  9. What are "control" questions? Are they basic questions like "Is your name ______?" "Is today Tuesday?" and "Are you sitting down?"
     
  10. You maintain that polygraphs are biased against the truthful. How can this be?
     
  11. What other types of trickery are polygraph examiners known to engage in?
     
  12. What happens if I keep making admissions to the control questions in the "pre-test interview?" What will the polygrapher do?
     
  13. What is a "false positive" result? How does this differ from a "false negative?"
     
  14. What are polygraph countermeasures?
     
  15. I heard that stepping on a tack placed in one's shoe is a good way to pass the polygraph. Is this effective?
     
  16. What is "polygraph screening?" What is "specific issue polygraph testing?" How do they differ?
     
  17. Why does the word "test" appear in quotation marks on this website?
     
  18. How extensive is the training that polygraph examiners receive? What level of education is required to be accepted at polygraph school?
     
  19. Why does AntiPolygraph.org give away all of its information for free? Where is the catch?
     
  20. I am being investigated for a crime I did not commit. The police have asked me to submit to a polygraph. How should I proceed?
     
  21. I am applying for a job that requires polygraph screening as part of the employment process. What are my options?
     
  22. I recently took a polygraph. Although I was truthful when I answered all the questions, the examiner told me that I was deceptive and/or "having trouble" with one or more of the questions. Was he serious or just bluffing?
     
  23. If I choose to submit to the polygraph and employ countermeasures, what are the most important things to remember?
     
  24. What are the polygrapher's goals in the "pre-test" interview? What should my goals be if I am planning to use countermeasures?
     
  25. How many questions are asked per series? How long is the spacing between questions?
     
  26. What is the "post-test" interview? How should I handle myself during this portion of the procedure?
     
  27. I have heard about late-model computerized polygraphs. What do you know about these devices?
     
  28. Tell me more about Computer Voice Stress Analysis (CVSA). Does it have the same accuracy problems as the polygraph? Are there any known countermeasures?
     
  29. What is the Employee Polygraph Protection Act? How does it apply to government agencies like police departments?
     
  30. I would like to see the Employee Polygraph Protection Act expanded to provide protection from unreliable lie-detection for all Americans. How can I help?
     
  31. I am a minority job applicant, and I recently "failed" a polygraph when I was truthful. Is it possible that racism, sexism, or other bigotry has contributed to my failure?
     
  32. I have been wrongly disqualified from a law-enforcement hiring process because of a polygraph false positive. What legal recourse do I have?
     
  33. I want to help put an end to polygraph abuse. What can I do?
     

Q. Why is AntiPolygraph.org dedicated to the abolishment of polygraph "testing?"

A. Because polygraph "testing" has not been shown to reliably distinguish between truth and deception. Despite the myth of an accurate "lie detector" which has long been part of American popular culture, the polygraph has failed miserably when put to the test by scientists under field conditions. In fact, polygraph "tests" are not science-based tests at all, but are instead fundamentally dependent on trickery. In addition, easily learned techniques allow anyone to beat the "test" and produce a "truthful" outcome.

Polygraph "testing" results in many truthful persons being wrongly branded as liars, while any liar can easily beat the "test." Hence, reliance on polygraph "test" results to any degree is both morally wrong and foolhardy.

Q. I have seen polygraph proponents claim that polygraph testing is 95-99% accurate. On what are claims like this based?

A. The studies purporting to prove accuracy percentage rates in the high nineties to which polygraph proponents refer have not passed the muster of scientific peer review and/or have not been performed under field conditions. Instead, they have largely been conducted by researchers with a vested interest in polygraphy and published in polygraph or law enforcement trade journals.

Q. I recently took a polygraph "test," and failed, despite having told the truth on all questions. How could this have happened?

A. The "test" is simply not reliable. Trying to speculate as to why you may have failed is like trying to provide an explanation as to why a coin tossed into the air has landed on the ground with the "heads" side facing skyward.

Q. I have a chronic medical condition. Could this affect my polygraph results?

A. Since polygraphy has not been shown to reliably distinguish between truth and deception in healthy individuals, there is no reason to expect that these "tests" are reliable when used on people with chronic medical conditions. As matter of fact, the American Medical Association has taken a stand against polygraphy and testified before Congress in support of the 1988 Employee Polygraph Protection Act. Once again, there is no way to explain why a subject--healthy or ill--may have "failed." Polygraph "tests" are simply not a reliable way to measure truthfulness.

Q. Can polygraph "tests" be beaten? Must one be a sociopathic liar or "believe one's own lies" to do so?

A. Anyone can beat a polygraph test. It is a common misperception that one must be a sociopathic liar or somehow believe one's own lies to beat the polygraph. The truth is that one need merely understand the trickery on which the "test" depends. In particular, one must understand the difference between relevant, irrelevant, and so-called "control" questions (which provide no control whatsoever in the scientific sense of the word). The key to beating a polygraph "test" is 1) to make no damaging admissions and 2) to subtly augment one's physiological responses to the "control" questions. You will find a full explanation of exactly how to employ these techniques in Chapter 4 of The Lie Behind the Lie Detector.

Polygraphers frequently claim that any experienced polygrapher can readily spot polygraph countermeasures (attempts to beat the polygraph). However, such claims are entirely unsupported by peer-reviewed scientific research. On the contrary, peer-reviewed research indicates that polygraphers are not capable of detecting countermeasures attempts at better than chance levels.

Q. How exactly are polygraphs supposed to work?

A. Polygraph testing is based on the flawed assumption that fluctuations in breathing, pulse rate, blood pressure, and perspiration are indicative of deception. In a nutshell, a polygrapher compares a subject's physiological responses to a question where the individual is supposedly tricked into lying (a "control question") with his/her response to a question concerning the matter being investigated. If reactions to the "control" question are greater, the subject is deemed truthful. If reactions to the question on which the polygrapher is attempting to determine truth or deception are greater, the subject "fails." If reactions to both are approximately the same in size, the "test" is termed inconclusive.

Q. I'm still not following you. Can you explain further? How do polygraphers determine truth or deception? How is the "test" scored?

A. The easiest way to understand polygraphs and the simplistic method by which polygraphers attempt to determine truth or deception is through a hypothetical polygraph "test." For simplicity's sake, the following hypothetical uses only one question of each type. Please keep in mind that an actual polygraph would include more than one of each question type per series.

The following questions might be asked of a law-enforcement job applicant named "Bob."

Q1- Do people sometimes call you Bob? (Irrelevant)

Q2- Did you ever lie to a person in authority? (Control)

Q3- Did you ever use illegal drugs? (Relevant)

Let's suppose that Bob says "yes" to Q1 and "no" to Q2 and Q3. With the polygraph apparatus hooked up, all of the questions are asked in succession, approximately 20-30 seconds apart.

At the conclusion of the running of the charts (2-3 charts are usually run for each set of questions), the polygrapher compares Bob's physiological responses to Q2 (lying to those in authority) with his responses to Q3 (drug use). Bob's "no" response to the question on lying to those in authority is assumed by the polygrapher to be a lie. If the responses to Q2 are greater than the responses to Q3, the polygrapher pronounces Bob truthful. If Bob's responses to Q3 are greater than his responses to Q2, Bob is declared deceptive. And, if the responses are roughly equal, the outcome of the "test" is "inconclusive."

The only question in this series where the polygrapher is actually attempting to determine truth vs. deception is the drug question. The polygrapher will attempt to convince Bob during the "pre-test" interview that lying to those in authority is morally wrong, is taken very seriously, and that that the question "Did you ever lie to someone in authority" must be answered truthfully. Statements like these are intended to manipulate Bob into denying that he has ever lied to anyone in authority. In actuality, the polygrapher assumes that all persons have lied to someone in authority and calculates that Bob's response to this question will be less than truthful. He simplistically assumes that Bob's answer is a lie and uses Bob's physiological responses when answering this question as a baseline with which to compare his responses to other questions.

Despite what the polygrapher, Hollywood films, and many poorly researched news stories would have Bob believe, Q1 (Are you sometimes called Bob?) is not a "control" question. It does not provide a baseline of what Bob's truthful responses supposedly look like. It is an irrelevant question, and it is not scored at all!

Q. If the polygraph is so inaccurate, why do government agencies like the FBI, CIA, DEA, and Secret Service still use it?

A. There are a number of reasons. First, agencies like the polygraph because it encourages admissions. It provides powerful leverage for interrogators, primarily because naive and gullible subjects, fearing that the polygraph will detect the slightest hint of deception, will often make admissions that they might not otherwise make. Those innocent persons who are falsely accused in the process are considered acceptable losses. Furthermore, polygraphs allow bureaucrats to cover themselves in situations where it turns out that a bad decision was made in hiring someone or granting a security clearance. See page 25 of The Lie Behind the Lie Detector and Aldrich Ames' letter to Steven Aftergood (offsite) for further reading.

Q. What are "control" questions? Are they basic questions like "Is your name ______?" "Is today Tuesday?" and "Are you sitting down?"

A. No! This is one of the biggest misconceptions about the polygraph. Basic questions like those above do not serve as "control" questions in current polygraph techniques. Such questions are actually "irrelevant" questions and are totally ignored in the scoring process.

Control questions are generally questions about minor misdeeds formulated to appear like they are part of the polygrapher's inquiry. Although the polygrapher will try to convince the examinee that he considers these activities to be deplorable, he actually assumes that everyone, including the examinee, has engaged in them. During the pretest interview, the polygrapher steers the subject into a denial, assuming that the individual will lie to him or at the very least be less than confident in his/her response. Some popular control questions include:

  • Have you ever told a lie?
  • Have you ever told a lie about anything serious?
  • Have you ever lied to a loved one?
  • Have you ever lied to a person in a position of authority?
  • Have you ever lied to get out of trouble?
  • Have you ever stolen anything?
  • Have you ever stolen anything from work?
  • Have you ever cheated in school/college/grad school?
  • Have you ever lied to your parents, teachers, or the police?

And, for those applicants who admit in the "pretest interview" that they drive a motor vehicle and occasionally drink alcohol, a popular control question is...

  • Have you ever driven under the influence of alcohol?

As unbelievable as this may sound, even federal agencies like the FBI and Secret Service assume that all of their applicants have cheated in school, lied to people in authority, driven under the influence of alcohol, etc.

Q. You maintain that polygraphs are biased against the truthful. How can this be?

A. Applicants who explain all their past indiscretions to the polygrapher during the "pre-test" interview and actually give honest answers to the "control" questions (and, as a consequence, feel less anxiety when answering them) face an increased likelihood of "failing" the "test."

Q. What other types of trickery are polygraph examiners known to engage in?

A. During the "pretest" interview, polygraphers frequently ask questions about an examinee's background, qualifications, education, family, interests, etc. The examinee is left to assume that all this information is necessary in order for the polygrapher to successfully conduct the "test." In actuality, the purpose of the "pretest interview" is to manipulate the examinee into lying on certain questions (the "control" questions), observe his/her body language during questioning, and to gather personal information that can later be used in a post-test interrogation to elicit admissions (or, in the case of criminal polygraph interrogations, a confession).

When the polygraph components are actually hooked up, the polygrapher will begin with the acquaintance, or "stim" (short for "stimulation") test. One variation of this test involves having the examinee draw a card from a deck (which is stacked or marked). The polygrapher instructs the examinee to answer "No" to each question and then runs a chart, questioning the examinee about the card he or she picked. The polygrapher then pretends to have discovered which card the examinee picked. Another variation of this test involves instructing the examinee to write a number on a sheet of paper and then lie to the polygrapher by denying writing the number. The polygrapher tells the examinee that the reason for either variation of this "test" is so that he can "adjust the instrument" and/or make certain that the subject is "capable" of physiologically responding when a lie is told. This explanation is an outright lie--the purpose of the "stim" test is to dupe the examinee into believing that the polygrapher can read his/her mind, and that even the slightest attempt at deception will be detected. Essentially, the purpose of this exercise is to instill in the subject the fear on which polygraph "tests" depend. See pages 44-46 of The Lie Behind the Lie Detector for further reading.

By far the most egregious deception is in the formulation and application of the "control" questions. During the "pre-test" phase, the polygrapher will attempt to manipulate the examinee into blanket denials of minor misdeeds by implying that anyone who has ever committed any of these acts is essentially a bad person and is unsuitable for employment with the agency. In actuality, the polygrapher assumes that the examinee has committed these misdeeds, and that he/she will be less than truthful when answering questions about them. He then compares the examinee's physiological responses to these "control" questions to responses to the relevant questions.

Relevant questions are those where the polygrapher is actually attempting to determine if the examinee is being truthful or deceptive. For law enforcement applicants, relevant questions are sure to include illegal drug use/sales and falsifying of the application. Commission of undetected major crimes and cheating on the police exam are also common topics of inquiry for relevant questions. For national security positions (including federal law enforcement) relevant questions on espionage activities are sure to be included.

Q. What happens if I keep making admissions to the control questions in the "pre-test interview?" What will the polygrapher do?

A. Every time you make an admission to a control question in the "pretest" interview, the polygrapher will act slightly troubled by your admission. He will then rephrase the question with a modifier in front of it ("besides" is most common). He may additionally seize upon something you say and use it to modify the question. For example:

Polygrapher: "Have you ever told a lie?"

Bob: "Yes... A few weeks ago, I lied to my mother to conceal her surprise birthday party."

Polygrapher: "Here at this agency, we take lying very seriously. One must have the utmost integrity in order to work here. Besides what you already told me, have you ever told a lie?

Here, if Bob says, "No," the control question on the real "test" will be, "Besides what you told me, have you ever told a lie?" The polygrapher assumes that Bob has told more than one lie in his life, and will think of it when asked the question. But let's suppose that Bob makes the following reply:

Bob: "Well, last year, I lied to my wife when she asked if she looked fat in a new dress. I guess I've told a lot of little lies--but nothing serious."

Polygrapher: "Is it safe then, to say, that you've never told a lie about anything serious?

Bob: "That's right..."

When the charts are actually run, one of Bob's "control" questions will be "Have you ever lied about anything serious?" Note that this question is still nearly impossible for Bob to answer truthfully with complete confidence--after all, the word "serious" has never been defined. During this question, Bob is likely to think of a time he lied and have trouble deciding whether his lie was serious or not. This is exactly what the polygrapher wants.

Q. What is a "false positive" result? How does this differ from a "false negative?"

A. A false positive result occurs when a polygraph test brands a truthful person a liar. A false negative happens when a deceptive individual passes a polygraph "test." Both cases are common.

Q. What are polygraph countermeasures?

A. "Polygraph countermeasures" refers to methods used to beat the polygraph. While countermeasures may be used by deceptive persons who wish to beat the polygraph, they can also be used by truthful persons to protect themselves against the all-too-common false positive result. For a full explanation of how to employ countermeasures, see Chapter 4 of The Lie Behind the Lie Detector.

Q. I heard that stepping on a tack placed in one's shoe is a good way to pass the polygraph. Is this effective?

A. Yes. If properly used (during the control questions), the tack-in-the-shoe is an effective physical countermeasure. However, polygraphers have developed an effective "counter-countermeasure" for this tactic -- they can simply instruct the examinee to remove his shoes. Some polygraph chairs also come equipped with a pressure-sensitive strain gauge that will provide a warning to the polygrapher if this polygraph countermeasure is attempted. Since other effective methods exist to defeat the polygraph with no risk of detection, this technique should be avoided.

Q. What is "polygraph screening?" What is "specific issue polygraph testing?" How do they differ?

Polygraph screening involves the "testing" of a large number of individuals in an effort to determine whether or not each individual has engaged in an act that is not known for certain to have occurred. Pre-employment polygraph "tests" and counterintelligence-scope "tests" of current employees fit into this category.

Specific issue "testing" involves polygraphing a small number of individuals in an effort to separate truth from deception with regard to an event that is known for certain to have occurred. The most common example of specific issue testing is the polygraphing of suspects when a crime is known to have occurred.

While no polygraph "test" has been proven in peer-reviewed scientific studies to work better than chance under field conditions, there is still some disagreement among academics as to the validity of specific issue polygraph "testing." With respect to polygraph screening, there is near universal agreement among scientists that the technique is completely invalid and should be halted.

In 1995, the late William J. Yankee, then director of the Department of Defense Polygraph Institute (DoDPI), assembled an independent scientific advisory board to comment on the Institute's research and procedures. It was the consensus of this board that polygraph screening is without scientific validity. When Michael H. Capps succeeded Dr. Yankee as DoDPI director, one of his first acts was to dismiss this advisory board.

Q. Why does the word "test" appear in quotation marks on this website?

A. The word "test" in a scientific sense implies both standardization and control. Polygraphy lacks both. Polygraph "testing" simply does not meet the scientific community's standards for a valid psychometric test.

Q. How extensive is the training that polygraph examiners receive? What level of education is required to be accepted at polygraph school?

A. Most polygraph examiner courses are only eight to ten weeks long! The most prestigious polygraph training program, the Department of Defense Polygraph Institute basic polygraph examiner course, churns out new polygraphers after a mere 14 weeks of training. Even barbers must attend twenty-six weeks of schooling before being licensed to cut hair. Furthermore, at most polygraph schools, there is no firm educational prerequisite. Many polygraph schools list a two-year associate degree as a requirement for entrance, but this requirement may be waived for life/work experience.

Q. Why does AntiPolygraph.org give away all of its information for free? Where is the catch?

A. There is no catch. AntiPolygraph.org was founded by a group of polygraph "victims." Our only desire is that others should not have to repeat our unpleasant experiences with the polygraph. All we ask of those who find this website helpful is that they tell others about it and take a few minutes to write several prominent legislators expressing support for a new Comprehensive Polygraph Protection Act with no loopholes. See our Get Involved page for details.

Q. I am being investigated for a crime I did not commit. The police have asked me to submit to a polygraph. How should I proceed?

A. If you are a suspect in a criminal investigation, under no circumstances should you submit to a polygraph. You should remain silent and consult with an attorney. Many innocent individuals who become suspects in criminal investigations eagerly agree to submit to a polygraph in the mistaken belief that the "test" is highly accurate and will clear them from suspicion. Regrettably, this is not necessarily the case. "Passing" a polygraph "test" provides no guarantee of being cleared of suspicion. "Failing," on the other hand, is likely to be highly prejudicial. Either way, agreeing to the "test" means agreeing to sit down and be questioned by a trained interrogator without the benefit of having an attorney present. Don't do it.

Law enforcement does not value the polygraph for its purported ability to sort out truth from deception. Polygraph results are not admissible in court. Rather, the device is coveted by police agencies because of its effective role as a psychological third degree. The goal is simple: to elicit a confession (which can be used in court). Essentially, the polygraph allows the police to use an age-old bluff: "We already know you did it -- we have a witness who ratted you out -- why don't you just confess, and we'll take it easy on you." In this case, the nonexistent witness is a bunch of squiggly lines on a piece of paper. The "fabricated witness" ruse has long been a favorite of interrogators -- from middle school vice-principals to seasoned federal agents. Don't fall for it! If you ever have the misfortune of finding yourself in this situation, remain silent and get a lawyer.

Q. I am applying for a job that requires polygraph screening as part of the employment process. What are my options?

If you are asked to take a polygraph for employment purposes, you have three basic options for protecting yourself from a false positive outcome:

1. Refuse to take the polygraph. Keep in mind that taking this approach is sure to cause you to be removed from the hiring process.

2. Be completely honest with the polygrapher. Let him know that you have read The Lie Behind the Lie Detector and are aware of the trickery on which polygraph "tests" depend. Ask that your polygraph "testing" be waived. This approach brings with it, however, the substantial risk that the polygrapher will "test" you anyway, and then arbitrarily accuse you of employing countermeasures.

3. Submit to the "test," conceal your knowledge about the trickery on which polygraphy depends, and employ countermeasures to protect yourself from a false positive outcome.

Which path to choose is a difficult choice and one that only you can make.

Q: I recently took a polygraph. Although I was truthful when I answered all the questions, the examiner told me that I was deceptive and/or "having trouble" with one or more of the questions. Was he serious or just bluffing?

A: Both of these are possibilities. Bluffing is a favorite tactic of polygraphers. They may tell examinees that the "test" shows deception regardless of how the charts should be scored according to polygraph doctrine. You may have produced a "truthful" chart, but for some reason, the polygrapher may have been suspicious of you. Remember, the polygraph examiner's number one goal is to get you to make a damaging admission.

In any case, a large number of truthful examinees produce charts which are "indicative of deception" according to polygraph doctrine. Even without any admissions, many people are denied employment based on polygraph chart readings alone. Therefore, it is nearly impossible to speculate whether you have "passed" or "failed" based on the polygrapher's statements.

If, at the conclusion of your polygraph exam, you were labeled by the polygrapher as being deceptive, we advise waiting a week or two to see if he was bluffing. If you receive no contact from the agency that "tested" you after this time has passed, we suggest sending a letter by certified mail denying the polygrapher's charges and requesting a "re-test." More information about grievance procedures can be found in Chapter 5 of The Lie Behind the Lie Detector.

Q. If I choose to submit to the polygraph and employ countermeasures, what are the most important things to remember?

A. First, make no admissions to the relevant questions. If you are applying for a job and choose to make admissions to the relevant questions (this decision is up to you), the time to do it is when your application is submitted. From the moment you arrive for the polygraph to the second you leave, make no additional admissions to the relevant questions. Agencies tend to look less-than-favorably upon applicants who wait until confronted with a psychological billy club to be fully forthcoming.

Second, arrive at your polygraph thoroughly familiar with the three types of polygraph questions (irrelevant, relevant, control/comparison) and able to identify them. During the "pretest" interview, all questions will be read to you. Use this time to categorize each question in your mind. Tips on identifying polygraph questions can be found in Chapter 3 of The Lie Behind the Lie Detector. Furthermore, you should be comfortable with a physical or mental countermeasure technique that will allow you to manipulate the cardio/GSR channels of the polygraph and a breathing pattern that polygraphers associate with deception. Countermeasure techniques are described in detail in Chapter 4 of The Lie Behind the Lie Detector.

It is also helpful to be familiar with the types of nonverbal body language that polygraphers associate with truth and deception. In addition to the charts, the polygrapher often factors in these nonverbal cues in his determination of truth or deception. See the Department of Defense Polygraph Institute (DoDPI) Interview and Interrogation Handbook (5.2 mb PDF) for details.

Lastly, be familiar with common interrogation tactics and use extreme caution, especially during any "post-test interview." Information on interrogation tactics commonly used during polygraph tests can be found in the DoDPI Interview and Interrogation Handbook.

Before, during, and after the "test," the polygrapher may well attempt to badger you into changing your statements, sometimes explaining that this is required in order for him to "help" you. Make no mistake. The polygrapher is not your "friend," and he is not there to "help" you. He is not your ally against the department or "headquarters." As interrogators, polygraph examiners are trained to project a false sense of empathy for you and your situation. Do not be fooled. The polygrapher's job is to obtain admissions from you that you would not otherwise have made. Some polygraphers may be friendly, others confrontational. Regardless, all of them have the same goal: to dupe you into making damaging admissions. Do not change your statements! Even the slightest attempt to clarify your response to a relevant question may be spun into an admission. Polygraphers are frequently evaluated by the percentage of candidates they get to make damaging admissions.

Avoiding admissions also applies when being accused of polygraph countermeasures. Polygraphers routinely accuse subjects of employing countermeasures when they have absolutely no evidence whatsoever. As more people learn about the trickery behind polygraph testing, "post-test" questioning about countermeasures may eventually follow every "passing" chart. If you correctly employ the countermeasures described in The Lie Behind the Lie Detector and the polygrapher informs you that he knows you are trying to beat the device, he is bluffing. Don't fall for it! If you plan to use countermeasures, never, under any circumstances, admit to the polygrapher that you know about/have employed countermeasures.

Q. What are the polygrapher's goals in the "pre-test" interview? What should my goals be if I am planning to use countermeasures?

A. The polygrapher has several goals. These include:

  • Gathering information about you that he can use as leverage in a "post-test" interrogation.
  • Creating the fear of detection that is an essential element of polygraph "tests" (this is done through a less-than-candid explanation of the procedure).
  • Observing your body language.
  • Extracting admissions.

If you plan to use countermeasures, your main goal in the "pre-test" phase should be to listen carefully to all of the questions and to categorize them by type (irrelevant, relevant, control). The questions will be finalized before the polygraph is actually hooked up. Your job is to remember the control questions so that you can respond with countermeasures when they are asked during the actual "test."

You may also make some minor admissions to the "control" questions in an effort to appear cooperative. Limit admissions to minor childhood misdeeds. After making these admissions, the control questions are likely to have a modifier like, "Besides what you told me..." placed in front of them. Make no other admissions, especially with regard to the relevant questions.

Q. How many questions are asked per series? How long is the spacing between questions?

A. Polygraphers commonly ask about ten questions per series. Questions are asked approximately every 20-30 seconds. Typically, each series is repeated two or three times. Most examinations consist of one or two series.

Q. What is the "post-test" interview? How should I handle myself during this portion of the procedure?

A. After you have gone through all the question repetitions with the polygraph components attached, your polygrapher may attempt to subject you to a "post-test interview." Make no mistake: the post test "interview" is actually an interrogation (as is the rest of the polygraph process). During this segment, the polygrapher has one goal: to extract an admission or confession. He may tell you that the polygraph charts show deception (even if, based on polygraph doctrine, they don't). You categorically deny his charges. Be sure to be familiar with the body language that polygraphers associate with truthful individuals. This information can be found in the Department of Defense Polygraph Institute Interview and Interrogation Handbook (5.2 mb PDF).

If your polygrapher attempts a "post-test" interrogation, it is a good sign that you have already "failed." You have nothing to gain by remaining for the rest of the interrogation. The "post-test" interrogation may result in fabricated "admissions," which are much harder to fight than rejections based on polygraph charts alone. Our first thought is to advise examinees to walk out the second the examiner begins a "post-test" interrogation. But we realize that polygraphers also read this site, and that they could very well start conducting "post-test" interrogations on everyone in an attempt to divine who has visited this site. Furthermore, as public knowledge of countermeasure techniques increases, fewer people will be producing "failing" charts. Therefore...

Our recommendation is to stay for the start of the interrogation and be on your toes. Make categorical denials of the polygrapher's charges ("At no time did I ever do what you are accusing me of." "Nothing whatsoever is bothering me about that question," etc.). After being asked the same question more than once, reiterate your denial and attempt to move the interview toward closure. If the polygrapher continues to persist, politely terminate the interview. A false confession will do far more to hurt your future employment prospects with other agencies than a polygraph "failure."

Furthermore, the examiner may give you a pencil and paper and request that you write out what you were thinking about during a question. Do not write out and/or sign anything at this point!

Q. I have heard about late-model computerized polygraphs. What do you know about these devices?

A. Computerized polygraphs are no more accurate than traditional, analog ones. Furthermore, they are just as susceptible to countermeasures. Polygraphers tout the computerized polygraph as highly improved, etc. The fact is that the only "improvement" is in the intimidation factor. The polygraph industry knows that it suffers from a poor image regarding reliability (and rightfully so) and has adopted computerization in an attempt to make it look like accuracy has improved. In reality, little has changed since the 1930s. Polygraphy is still based on the same flawed assumptions. The fact remains that there is no exclusive relationship between the physiological functions measured by the polygraph and attempts at deception. Even if a polygraph could be created that was 100 percent accurate in measuring breathing, skin conductivity, and blood pressure, without a valid theory connecting these measurements to deception (which does not exist) it would still leave us no closer to an accurate "lie-detector" than we were in the 1930s. Basically, the computerized polygraph amounts to "Garbage In, Garbage Out."

Q. Tell me more about Computer Voice Stress Analysis (CVSA). Does it have the same accuracy problems as the polygraph? Are there any known countermeasures?

A. CVSA is indeed plagued with the same accuracy problems as the polygraph. Excluding studies done by the manufacturer of the device, there is no data available to show that CVSA is any more reliable than chance in determining truth vs. deception.

We know of no documented countermeasures to manipulate the CVSA device. Fortunately, the CVSA examiner's manual explicitly cautions that no employment decision should be made solely on the basis of CVSA data. If you are rejected on the basis of a CVSA "test" alone, there appears to be substantial grounds for a lawsuit against the employing agency. Since CVSA is nothing more than an interrogation prop, one should be most concerned with avoiding damaging admissions and exhibiting the nonverbal cues believed by interrogators to be associated with truthful behavior. See the Department of Defense Polygraph Institute Interview and Interrogation Handbook (5.2 mb PDF) for information on these behaviors and common interrogation tactics.

Q. What is the Employee Polygraph Protection Act? How does it apply to government agencies like police departments?

A. The Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988 (29 U.S.C. Chapter 22) is a law designed to protect private sector employees from polygraphs and other purported lie-detection devices. It was enacted in the wake of numerous allegations of abusive behavior by polygraphers and after a number of studies concluded that polygraph accuracy was unacceptable. A number of prominent organizations such as the American Medical Association and American Civil Liberties Union testified in support of its passage.

Generally, this law prevents private employers from even requesting that an employee or job applicant submit to a polygraph or any other type of "lie-detection" test (CVSA, etc.). There are a number of exemptions, which include:

  • Employers under contract with the federal government for defense/energy/law-enforcement purposes;
  • Employers whose primary business involves providing armored car personnel, burglar alarm system personnel, or security personnel whose function includes protection of facilities that have a significant impact on the health and/or safety of any state or municipality (power plants, water supply facilities, etc.);
  • Employers authorized to manufacture, distribute, or dispense a controlled substance.

In addition, all private sector employers may request that any employee submit to a polygraph interrogation if the employer is investigating a specific loss. However, the employee has the right to refuse the polygraph in this situation and may not be fired/demoted/disciplined/denied promotion solely on the basis of this refusal.

Government employers, such as law enforcement agencies, are completely exempt from this legislation. This exemption applies to all levels of government: federal, state, and local. This means that government entities have carte blanche to use the polygraph however they see fit with virtual impunity.

Q. I would like to see the Employee Polygraph Protection Act expanded to provide protection from unreliable lie-detection for all Americans. How can I help?

A. The best thing to do its to write your representatives and urge that more comprehensive antipolygraph legislation be passed. The AntiPolygraph.org Get Involved page has sample letters and the addresses of several prominent senators who have shown some interest in this issue.

Q. I am a minority job applicant, and I recently "failed" a polygraph when I was truthful. Is it possible that racism, sexism, or other bigotry has contributed to my failure?

A. Certainly. While polygraph "false positives" affect those of all races, creeds, and colors, it is quite probable that this "test" is being used to carry out bigoted hiring practices in broad daylight. Because it can easily be manipulated by one person (the examiner), the polygraph is the perfect "tool" for circumventing an otherwise fair hiring process. A single "failed" polygraph can create an indelible negative mark on an otherwise outstanding applicant. Furthermore, in most circumstances, there is no right of appeal. Even if there is an appeal process, the applicant still faces an uphill battle -- after all, his/her credibility is suspect because he has "failed" a polygraph.

AntiPolygraph.org has been contacted by a number of minority applicants informing us that they were falsely accused by a polygrapher and that there may have been a racist element to their "failure." If you are in this situation, we suggest that you contact the NAACP by written letter and inform them of your situation and this website. Moreover, urge them to aggressively support closing the loopholes in the 1988 Employee Polygraph Protection Act and extending protection from polygraphs to all Americans.

Q. I have been wrongly disqualified from a law-enforcement hiring process because of a polygraph false positive. What legal recourse do I have?

A. The insulation from oversight currently enjoyed by polygraphers generally precludes effective legal challenges to dismissals based on polygraph results. Few, if any, laws regulate polygraphers and their conduct. Nonetheless, there are isolated reports of polygraphers being sued successfully. If you do investigate legal action, we suggest consulting an attorney experienced in labor law. Furthermore, you may wish to network with other polygraph victims in your area in an attempt to spread out legal costs among more individuals. The Action Alerts forum of the AntiPolygraph.org message board was designed with this purpose in mind.

On 15 March 2000, noted Washington, DC attorney Mark S. Zaid filed a lawsuit against the DEA, FBI, and Secret Service on behalf of applicants who were rejected solely on the basis of their polygraph results. The lawsuit is based on 5th Amendment grounds, arguing that the applicants were denied due process. Pleadings in the case can be found on the AntiPolygraph.org Polygraph Litigation page. If you would like to join the lawsuit, you may contact Mr. Zaid directly at ZaidMS@aol.com. Please note that this legal action is only open to former applicants of federal agencies.

Q. I want to help put an end to polygraph abuse. What can I do?

A. The best thing you can do to fight polygraph abuse is to write your representatives and urge them to pass a new, comprehensive polygraph protection act that closes the government loopholes and protects all Americans from polygraph "testing." Contact information and a sample letter can be found on AntiPolygraph.org's Get Involved page.

Consider e-mailing us at info@antipolygraph.org with a personal statement of your encounter with the polygraph. We will be happy to consider it for posting (anonymously, if you so desire) on the AntiPolygraph.org Personal Statements page so that others may learn from your experience.

And don't forget to register with the AntiPolygraph.org message board and join in the discussion and debate of polygraph issues.

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