I realize that polygraph services may bring about lots of questions - here are some of the more common ones, along with answers that I hope will give you the information you need. Still have questions? Use the contact form to ask anything else you'd like to know.
Frequently Asked Questions
The term "polygraph" or commonly known as a "Lie Detector" literally means "many writings." The name refers to the manner in which selected physiological activities are simultaneously recorded. Polygraph examiners may use conventional instruments, sometimes referred to as analog instruments, or computerized polygraph instruments.
It is important to understand what a polygraph examination entails. A polygraph instrument will collect physiological data from at least three systems in the human body. Convoluted rubber tubes that are placed over the examinee's chest and abdominal area will record respiratory activity. Two small metal plates, attached to the fingers, will record sweat gland activity, and a blood pressure cuff, or similar device will record cardiovascular activity.
A typical polygraph examination will include a period referred to as a pre-test, a chart collection phase and a test data analysis phase. In the pre-test, the polygraph examiner will complete required paperwork and talk with the examinee about the test. During this period, the examiner will discuss the questions to be asked and familiarize the examinee with the testing procedure. During the chart collection phase, the examiner will administer and collect a number of polygraph charts.
Following this, the examiner will analyze the charts and render an opinion as to the truthfulness of the person taking the test. The examiner, when appropriate, will offer the examinee an opportunity to explain physiological responses in relation to one or more questions asked during the test. It is important to note that a polygraph does not include the analysis of physiology associated with the voice. Instruments that claim to record voice stress are not polygraphs and have not been shown to have scientific support.
The polygraph works by tracing changes in a person's physiological conditioning during questioning. These changes are recorded directly onto the polygraph charts in order for them to be reviewed. These physiological changes have been the subject of various research projects and our examiners have undertaken many hours of polygraph chart analysis instruction to interpret them. The Polygraph charts are generated by attaching four components to the subject.
During the pre-test interview the examiner will explain how the polygraph works, discuss the issue and develop and review all questions to be asked on the polygraph test. This stage is normally the longest to complete, and can take anywhere between 45 to 90 minutes.
During this phase the subject will be attached to the polygraph instrument. The set of questions that was developed during the pre-test interview will be asked on several occasions.
After the polygraph test has been completed the examiner will read and review the generated charts to establish the test results. The agreed questions will always be asked a minimum of twice before results can be determined.
Yes! The examiner will construct questions from the information given regarding the test issue. The questions will be reviewed with the examinee before testing begins. All questions should meet strict rules for the latest polygraph techniques to ensure test accuracy.
All questions are discussed with the examinee thoroughly before the test commences and will be answered with a "yes" or "no" answer only.
Studies have concluded that the single-issue polygraph exam, conducted properly by a qualified examiner, is 87 to 95 percent accurate. It is the most accurate tool available today for determining truth or deception. Accuracy of the multi-question exam drops to around 80 percent due to a number of psychological factors. These statistics do not include "inconclusive" results, which happens about 20% of the time.
While the polygraph technique is not infallible, research clearly indicates that when administered by a competent examiner, the polygraph test is one of the most accurate means available to determine truth and deception.
Can a person fail a polygraph because of high blood pressure or nervousness?
No. Polygraph is not designed to record or measure nervousness. While a person's heart beat and respiration rate may increase when he or she is nervous, a qualified examiner understands this, and will take it into consideration when evaluating an examinee's response. Unlike general nervous tension, an examinee's reaction to deceptive responses is highly specific. An examiner mitigates a nervous response by reviewing the questions with the examinee and through an acquaintance or "practice test" prior to the exam.
The polygraph works by recording changes in a person's Sympathetic Nervous System, part of the Autonomic Nervous System, which operates independently of conscious thought. For example, your lungs and heart continue to operate even when you are asleep - you don't have to think about it. These systems can be consciously controlled only very slightly, and attempts to change these systems are usually picked up by the examiners, who are trained to identify such things. It is highly unlikely that someone can alter the outcome of a polygraph exam, but it is not impossible. A verified accuracy rate as high as 95% attests to this fact.
A polygraph exam does not cause any direct injury to the person being tested. The only discomfort is a standard blood pressure cuff which goes on the arm (typically) and is inflated for less than five minutes at a time. There are increased stress levels during the testing process which should be considered. Some medical conditions are sensitive to increased stress levels, such as some heart conditions. Depending on the medical condition, most examiners would require an approval from the treating physician prior to conducting an exam on someone with such a condition.
Federal courts have ruled that polygraph is NOT per-se inadmissible in a court procedure, but that it may be considered when standard rules of scientific evidence have been met. In other words, applicants must apply to the judge for admissibility under the "Daubert" standard of evidence on a case-by-case basis. Individual judges can still decline to accept polygraph results, however. Each jurisdiction must be checked to determine admissibility standards. One of the greatest fears keeping polygraph evidence out of courts is the fact that such evidence would carry greater weight than other equally-important evidence and would tend to sway a jury in one direction even though other evidence may point the other way. In most cases, polygraph evidence is used during pre-trial negotiations and plea bargain agreements rather than during the trial itself.
When a polygraph examiner concludes that deception is indicated to one or more of the subject's answers, the subject is said to have "failed" the exam. Deception is indicated when the person's autonomic nervous system displays a significant and repetitive "defensive" reaction to the relevant test question. Although this reaction in itself is not a "lie," years of research have found that 90-95% of persons who display this reaction were either lying to the relevant questions or were withholding pertinent information relating to these question. Frequently, an examiner will conclude only that "the subject can not be excluded as a suspect" when deceptive reactions are present. It is important to note that some persons will "fail" a polygraph even though they are telling the literal truth but continue to hold back pertinent or incriminating information from the examiner. We strongly suggest that no one make a life-altering decision based solely on the results of a "failed" polygraph test without the existence of additional evidence supporting this test result.
Two convoluted rubber pneumograph tubes are placed around the subject's upper chest and abdomen on the outside of their clothing, these record respiration and movement.
The EDA or Electro-Dermal Activity is monitored by placing two finger plates across fingers, or two adhesive sensors directly on the hand. These plates trace changes to the skin resistance during the examination.
This component traces changes to the subjects relative blood pressure and pulse rate and it is similar to the pressure cuff your doctor uses when taking your blood pressure.
Yes, by law all polygraph results are confidential and will only be shared with the examinee, and, if the case dictates, the investigating official(s).