Internet search of information â€“ June 6 â€“ Rodrigo Navarro For more than 15 years, Robert Hanssen led a double life. In one life he was a 25-year veteran with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) who had access to some of the nation's most-classified information. In his other life, he allegedly was spying for the Russian government. Hanssen's deception was finally discovered, and in February 2001 he was arrested and later pled guilty to 15 espionagerelated charges. Spies are probably the world's best liars, because they have to be, but most of us practice deception on some level in our daily lives, even if it's just telling a friend that his horrible haircut "doesn't look that bad." People tell lies and deceive others for many reasons. Most often, lying is a defense mechanism used to avoid trouble with the law, bosses or authority figures. Sometimes, you can tell when someone's lying, but other times it may not be so easy. Polygraphs, commonly called "lie detectors," are instruments that monitor a person's physiological reactions. These instruments do not, as their nickname suggests, detect lies. They can only detect whether deceptive behavior is being displayed.
Photo courtesy Lafayette Instrument
An analog polygraph instrument Most analog polygraphs are being replaced by digital devices.
Do you think you can fool a polygraph machine and examiner? In this article, you'll learn how these instruments monitor your vital signs, how a polygraph exam works and about the legalities of polygraph testing. A polygraph instrument is basically a combination of medical devices that are used to monitor changes occurring in the body. As a person is questioned about a certain event or incident, the examiner looks to see how the person's heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate and electro-dermal activity (sweatiness, in this case of the fingers) change in comparison to normal levels. Fluctuations may indicate that person is being deceptive, but exam results are open to interpretation by the examiner.
Source: Lafayette Instrument
Physiological responses recorded by a polygraph
Polygraph exams are most often associated with criminal investigations, but there are other instances in which they are used. You may one day be subject to a polygraph exam before being hired for a job: Many government entities, and some private-sector employers, will require or ask you to undergo a polygraph exam prior to employment. Polygraph examinations are designed to look for significant involuntary responses going on in a person's body when that person is subjected to stress, such as the stress associated with deception. The exams are not able to specifically detect if a person is lying, according to polygrapher Dr. Bob Lee, former executive director of operations at Axciton Systems, a manufacturer of polygraph instruments. But there are certain physiological responses that most of us undergo when attempting to deceive another person. By asking questions about a
particular issue under investigation and examining a subject's physiological reactions to those questions, a polygraph examiner can determine if deceptive behavior is being demonstrated.
Photo courtesy Lafayette Instrument
Today, most polygraph exams are administered with digital equipment like this.
The polygraph instrument has undergone a dramatic change in the last decade. For many years, polygraphs were those instruments that you see in the movies with little needles scribbling lines on a single strip of scrolling paper. These are called analog polygraphs. Today, most polygraph tests are administered with digital equipment. The scrolling paper has been replaced with sophisticated algorithms and computer monitors.
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Parts of a polygraph that monitor physiological responses
When you sit down in the chair for a polygraph exam, several tubes and wires are connected to your body in specific locations to monitor your physiological activities. Deceptive behavior is supposed to trigger certain physiological changes that can be detected by a polygraph and a trained examiner, who is sometimes called a forensic psychophysiologist (FP). This examiner is looking for the amount of fluctuation in certain physiological activities. Here's a list of physiological activities that are monitored by the polygraph and how they are monitored: •
Respiratory rate - Two pneumographs, rubber tubes filled with air, are placed around the test subject's chest and abdomen. When the chest or abdominal muscles expand, the air inside the tubes is displaced. In an analog polygraph, the displaced air acts on a bellows, an accordion-like device that contracts when the tubes expand. This bellows is attached to a mechanical arm, which is connected to an ink-filled pen that makes marks on the scrolling paper when the subject takes a breath. A digital polygraph also uses the pneumographs, but employs transducers to convert the energy of the displaced air into electronic signals. Blood pressure/heart rate - A blood-pressure cuff is placed around the subject's upper arm. Tubing runs from the cuff to the polygraph. As blood pumps through the arm it makes sound; the changes in pressure caused by the sound displace the air in the tubes, which are connected to a bellows, which moves the pen. Again, in digital polygraphs, these signals are converted into electrical signals by transducers. Galvanic skin resistance (GSR) - This is also called electro-dermal activity, and is basically a measure of the sweat on your fingertips. The finger tips are one of the most porous areas on the body and so are a good place to look for sweat. The idea is that we sweat more when we are placed under stress. Fingerplates, called galvanometers, are attached to two of the subject's fingers. These plates measure the skin's ability to conduct electricity. When the skin is hydrated (as with
sweat), it conducts electricity much more easily than when it is dry. Some polygraphs also record arm and leg movements. As the examiner asks questions, signals from the sensors connected to your body are recorded on a single strip of moving paper. You will learn more about the examiner and the test itself later. Detractors of the polygraph call lie detection a voodoo science, saying that polygraphs are no more accurate at detecting lies than the flip of a coin. "Despite claims of 'lie detector' examiners, there is no machine that can detect lies," reads a statement from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). "The 'lie detector' does not measure truthtelling; it measures changes in blood pressure, breath rate and perspiration rate, but those physiological changes can be triggered by a wide range of emotions." Take the Quiz Lee, who has been performing polygraph Think you're an expert on lie exams for 18 years, agrees that polygraphs do detectors? Test your knowledge not detect lies. "What has happened over the with this quiz from Investigation Discovery: years is that the media has dubbed this lie Lie detector quiz detection, and that's what's clicked, but from a scientific perspective, absolutely not. There's no such thing as lie detection. I couldn't tell you what a lie looks like."
He does assert that polygraphs can detect deceptive behavior even through the stress brought on by the exam itself. "If the (forensic psychophysiologist) is properly trained and has the experience, he can penetrate that. Through the specific procedure that the FP will employ, anxiety will not penetrate into it." In the next section, you will learn more about who polygraph examiners are and what makes them qualified to conduct these examinations.