sometimes justified in terms of orienting theory. Such a justification has been offered for the Test of Espionage and Sabotage (TES) used for security screening in the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and some other federal agencies (U.S. Department of Defense Polygraph Institute, 1995a). Strong responses to relevant questions are taken to indicate an orienting response, in turn indicating “the significance of the stimulus”—though not necessarily deception (U.S. Department of Defense Polygraph Institute, 1995a:4). Responses to the TES are scored as “significant responding,” or “no significant responding” rather than the more traditional “deception indicated” or “no deception indicated.” Orienting theory has recently been offered as theoretical justification for polygraph testing in general (e.g., Kleiner, 2002).
The claim that orienting theory provides justification for the comparison question technique of polygraph testing is radically at odds with the practices of polygraph examiners using that technique. If it is the orienting response to the stimulus rather than the physiological response to deceptiveness that drives the responses, many of the procedures that are common practice in comparison question polygraph testing should be revised. First, the practice of previewing questions with examinees is problematic under orienting theory. Exposure to the relevant questions prior to the examination would tend to decrease the differential orienting response to the relevant and comparison questions and weaken the test’s ability to discriminate. Also, comparison questions would probably be constructed differently for a test based on orienting theory. Instead of designing them to induce reactions in nondeceptive subjects, they would probably be designed to be nonevocative, as they are in the relevant-irrelevant technique. Finally, a polygraph examination based on orienting theory would typically include multiple administrations of each class of questions (e.g., there would be several variations on an espionage question), to allow for a clear differentiation of orienting responses from others. Thus, we do not take very seriously the argument that the TES or other polygraph examination procedures based on the comparison question technique can be justified in terms of orienting theory.
It is possible that different theories are applicable in different situations. The dichotomization and orienting theories, for instance, may be more applicable to tests in which the signal value of the stimulus is more pertinent than the threat of severe consequences of detection: for example, when an investigation is aimed at identifying witnesses with knowledge about an incident even if they are innocent. The conflict, set, punishment, and arousal theories, in contrast, may be more applicable for identifying individuals guilty of serious crimes or those hiding dangerous plans or associations.
The early theoretical work assumed that polygraph responses associ-