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The Polygraph and Lie Detection
Lombroso (1882, 1895) and with systematic applied research occurring at least since Marston’s (1917) efforts in support of the U.S. war effort in World War I. (Appendix E summarizes the history of Marston’s work, including his relationship to the National Research Council, as well as providing some historical context related to the use of polygraph tests in security screening.) Over more than a century of research, major advances have been made in fields of basic psychology, physiology, and measurement that are relevant to the psychophysiological detection of deception and have the potential to transform the field, possibly improving practice. Some of these advances have found their way into polygraph research. The applied field as a whole, however, has been affected relatively little by these advances.
A solid theoretical base is necessary to have confidence in tests for the psychophysiological detection of deception, particularly for security screening. This is the case, as we have noted, because theory suggests that polygraph tests may give systematically erroneous results in certain situations and with certain populations (e.g., expectancy and stigma effects); because purely empirical assessment of the accuracy of test procedures cannot be conducted in important target populations such as spies and terrorists; and because of the need to have tests that are robust against a variety of countermeasures, some of them unanticipated. A research effort appropriate to these challenges would have been characterized by a set of research programs, each of which would have attempted to build and test a theoretical base and to develop an associated set of empirically supported measures and procedures that could guide research and practice. It would have focused on the psychophysiology and neuroscience of deception and sought the best physiological indicators of deception and the best ways to measure each one.
There are a few research programs that exhibit some of these characteristics. However, for the most part, polygraph research has focused on a few physiological responses for which measures have been available since at least the 1920s and tried to make the best of them by testing variations of them in practice, without doing much to develop the underlying science. The research has tended to focus on the application without advancing the basic science. In recent years, the same sort of approach has been tried with newer measures (see Chapter 6). There has been no systematic effort to identify the best potential physiological indicators on theoretical grounds or to update theory on the basis of emerging knowledge in psychology or physiology.
There has not even been any systematic effort to develop theoretical