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The Polygraph and Lie Detection
If the U.S. government established a major research program that addressed techniques for detection of deception, such a program would have to include applied research on countermeasures, addressed to at least three questions: (1) Are there particular countermeasures that are effective against all or some polygraph testing formats and scoring systems? (2) If so, how and why do they work? (3) Can they be detected and, if so, how?
The research would aim to come as close as possible to the intended settings and contexts in which the polygraph might be used. Countermeasures that work in low-stakes laboratory studies might not work, or might work better, in more realistic polygraph settings. Also, different countermeasure strategies might be effective, for example, in defeating screening polygraphs (where the distinction between relevant and comparison questions might not always be obvious) and in defeating the polygraph when used in specific-incident investigations. Studies might also investigate how specific countermeasures relate to question types and to particular physiological indicators, and whether specific countermeasures have reliable effects.
Countermeasures training would also be a worthy subject for study. Authors such as Maschke and Williams suggest that effective countermeasure strategies can be easily learned and that a small amount of practice is enough to give examinees an excellent chance of “beating” the polygraph. Because the effective application of mental or physical countermeasures on the part of examinees would require skill in distinguishing between relevant and comparison questions, skill in regulating physiological response, and skill in concealing countermeasures from trained examiners, claims that it is easy to train examinees to “beat” both the polygraph and trained examiners require scientific supporting evidence to be credible. However, we are not aware of any such research. Additional questions for research include whether there are individual differences in learning and retaining countermeasure skills, whether different strategies for countermeasure training have different effects, and whether some strategies work better for some examinees than for others.
Research could also address methods of detecting countermeasures. The available research suggests that detection is difficult, especially for mental countermeasures, but the studies are weak in external validity (e.g., low stakes for examiners and examinees), and they have rarely systematically examined specific strategies for detecting physical or mental countermeasures.
Research on countermeasures and their detection has potentially serious implications for security, especially for agencies that rely on the poly-