Polygraph field research poses difficult design issues, and we readily acknowledge the lack of a template for dealing simultaneously with all the problems and obtaining rapid, definitive results. Nevertheless, it is possible to do better field research than we have found in the literature and, over time, to use admittedly imperfect research designs, both experimental and observational, to advance knowledge and build methodological understanding, leading to better research design in the future. To accomplish these ends requires a key ingredient that has been missing from polygraph field research: active, prospective research planning. Prospectively planned field research generally produces better information than that obtained from opportunistic samples. As is true in most areas of human activity, higher quality comes at higher cost. Such research would require extensive participation by agencies that currently use polygraph testing and a dramatically higher level of research funding than is currently available for polygraph investigations.
We provide a few examples of the types of planned approaches that might be considered, but that we have not found in the publicly available polygraph research literature.
Prospective, research-oriented polygraph logs might be recorded for an extended series of routine field examinations. These logs would include information on exactly which question or questions produced responses indicating deception, precisely when in the polygraph examination admissions were made (in particular, whether these were before, during, or after testing), and whether admissions were made in response to an examiner’s claim of deception supported by a polygraph chart, or to other stimuli.
Actors or other mock subjects could be trained to be deceptive or nondeceptive, much as in laboratory mock crime experiments but more elaborately, and inserted sporadically for polygraph testing in field settings: for example, they could be presented to polygraph examiners as applicants for sensitive security positions.
Selected physiological responses of genuine polygraph subjects could be concealed from the examiner in favor of dummy tracings, for instance, of an alternate subject listening to the same questions in another room. The genuine responses of the examinee could be retained and still used to guide a follow-up interrogation or investigation if the charts indicate such a need.
Polygraph machines that can record a physiological response in more than one way (e.g., electrodermal response presented as conductance or resistance or presented as a bogus signal) might be used in field