THE POLYGRAPH AND LIE DETECTION
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS
500 Fifth Street, N.W. Washington, DC 20001
NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance.
This study was supported by Contract No. DE-AT01-01DP00344 between the National Academy of Sciences and the U.S. Department of Energy. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the organizations or agencies that provided support for the project.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The polygraph and lie detection.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 0-309-08436-9 (hardcover)
1. Lie detectors and detection—Evaluation. I. Committee to Review the Scientific Evidence on the Polygraph (National Research Council (U.S.))
HV8078 .P64 2003
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Suggested citation: National Research Council (2003). The Polygraph and Lie Detection. Committee to Review the Scientific Evidence on the Polygraph. Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES
Advisers to the Nation on Science, Engineering, and Medicine
The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit, self-perpetuating society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. Upon the authority of the charter granted to it by the Congress in 1863, the Academy has a mandate that requires it to advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters. Dr. Bruce M. Alberts is president of the National Academy of Sciences.
The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964, under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, as a parallel organization of outstanding engineers. It is autonomous in its administration and in the selection of its members, sharing with the National Academy of Sciences the responsibility for advising the federal government. The National Academy of Engineering also sponsors engineering programs aimed at meeting national needs, encourages education and research, and recognizes the superior achievements of engineers. Dr. Wm. A. Wulf is president of the National Academy of Engineering.
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The National Research Council was organized by the National Academy of Sciences in 1916 to associate the broad community of science and technology with the Academy’s purposes of furthering knowledge and advising the federal government. Functioning in accordance with general policies determined by the Academy, the Council has become the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities. The Council is administered jointly by both Academies and the Institute of Medicine. Dr. Bruce M. Alberts and Dr. Wm. A. Wulf are chair and vice chair, respectively, of the National Research Council.
COMMITTEE TO REVIEW THE SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE ON THE POLYGRAPH
STEPHEN E. FIENBERG (Chair),
Department of Statistics, Carnegie Mellon University
JAMES J. BLASCOVICH,
Department of Psychology, University of California, Santa Barbara
*JOHN T. CACIOPPO,
Department of Psychology, University of Chicago
RICHARD J. DAVIDSON,
Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Department of Psychology and Human Interaction Laboratory, University of California, San Francisco
DAVID L. FAIGMAN,
Hastings College of Law, University of California, San Francisco
PATRICIA L. GRAMBSCH,
Department of Biostatistics, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
PETER B. IMREY,
Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, The Cleveland Clinic Foundation, and Departments of Statistics and Medical Information Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
EMMETT B. KEELER,
RAND Health, Santa Monica, California
KATHRYN B. LASKEY,
Systems Engineering and Operations Research Department, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia
KEVIN R. MURPHY,
Department of Psychology, Pennsylvania State University, University Park
MARCUS E. RAICHLE,
Department of Radiology and Neurology, Washington University, St. Louis
RICHARD M. SHIFFRIN,
Department of Psychology, Indiana University, Bloomington
JOHN A. SWETS,
BBN Technologies (emeritus), Tequesta, Florida
PAUL C. STERN, Study Director
ALEKSANDRA SLAVKOVIC, Consultant
SUSAN R. McCUTCHEN, Research Associate
DEBORAH M. JOHNSON, Senior Project Assistant
BOARD ON BEHAVIORAL, COGNITIVE, AND SENSORY SCIENCES
ANNE PETERSEN (Chair),
W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Battle Creek, Michigan
LINDA MARIE BURTON,
Center for Human Development and Family Research, The Pennsylvania State University
STEPHEN J. CECI,
Department of Human Development, Cornell University
EUGENE K. EMORY,
Department of Psychology, Emory University
Center for Cognitive Science, Rutgers University
ANTHONY W. JACKSON,
Disney Learning Initiative, Burbank, California
Center for Neural Science, New York University
MARCIA C. LINN,
Graduate School of Education, University of California at Berkeley
ELISSA L. NEWPORT,
Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, University of Rochester
CHARLES R. PLOTT,
Division of Humanities and Social Sciences, California Institute of Technology
MICHAEL L. RUTTER,
Institute of Psychiatry, University of London
Center for Human Growth and Development, University of Michigan
JAMES W. STIGLER,
Department of Psychology, University of California at Los Angeles
JOHN A. SWETS,
BBN Technologies (emeritus), Tequesta, Florida
RICHARD F. THOMPSON,
Neurosciences Program, University of Southern California
WILLIAM A. YOST,
Office of Research and the Graduate School, Loyola University Chicago
CHRISTINE R. HARTEL, Director
COMMITTEE ON NATIONAL STATISTICS
JOHN E. ROLPH (Chair),
Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California
JOSEPH G. ALTONJI, Thomas DeWitt Cuyler Professor of Economics,
AT&T Labs-Research, Florham Park, New Jersey
LAWRENCE D. BROWN,
Department of Statistics, University of Pennsylvania
ROBERT M. GROVES, Director,
Survey Research Center, University of Michigan
United Nations Statistics Division
JOEL L. HOROWITZ,
Department of Economics, Northwestern University
Survey Research Unit, Department of Biostatistics, University of North Carolina
School of Public Policy and Social Research, University of California at Los Angeles
THOMAS A. LOUIS,
Department of Biostatistics, Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University
Department of Statistics, Department of Industrial and Operations Engineering, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
AT&T Labs-Research, Florham Park, New Jersey
NORA CATE SCHAEFFER,
University of Wisconsin-Madison
MATTHEW D. SHAPIRO,
Department of Economics, University of Michigan
ANDREW A. WHITE, Director
The polygraph, known more commonly as the “lie detector,” has a long and controversial history as a forensic tool, but it has also been used in a variety of other contexts, including employment screening. The U.S. federal government, through a variety of agencies, carries out thousands of polygraph tests each year on job applicants and current employees, and there are inevitable disputes that are sometimes highly publicized when someone “fails” a polygraph test. The American Polygraph Association, the largest polygraph association consisting of examiners in the private, law enforcement, and government fields, claims that the polygraph has a high degree of accuracy in detecting truthfulness or deception, with research studies published since 1980 reporting average accuracy rates ranging from 80 to 98 percent. Yet others claim that the studies underlying the polygraph represent “junk science” that has no scientific basis. Can experienced polygraph examiners detect deception? Again there is a diversity of claims. The World Wide Web contains a myriad of web pages advertising methods to beat the polygraph, while some people say that if the examinee knowingly lies, the polygraph will detect the lie.
The Committee to Review the Scientific Evidence on the Polygraph was asked by the U.S. Department of Energy to conduct a scientific review of the research on polygraph examinations that pertain to their validity and reliability, particularly for personnel security screening, and to provide suggestions for further research. Over 19 months, the committee held a series of meetings, visited polygraph facilities at several govern-
ment agencies, and examined large numbers of reports and published papers. We explored some historical dimensions of the research literature on the polygraph, including a link to work at the National Research Council (NRC) more than 80 years ago—and we learned how this led to the creation of the comic book character, Wonder Woman. We attempted to listen carefully to people representing both sides in the debate on polygraph accuracy, and we then stepped back and reviewed the evidence ourselves. The members of the committee brought to our deliberations diverse backgrounds and research perspectives, most of which had special relevance to one or more aspects of the research literature and practice of the polygraph. But we shared one thing in common: none of us had previously been engaged in polygraph research, per se, and each was intrigued by the claims in support of and against the polygraph.
Examining alternatives to the polygraph was also a key component of the committee’s charge. We did this in a variety of ways, through input from agency representatives, visits to research laboratories, participation of committee members in outside workshops, presentations by researchers before the committee, and by reviewing relevant research literature shared with the committee by others or gathered by individual members and staff. We looked for polished alternatives and promising approaches and attempted to assess their scientific bases.
The committee tried to understand how the polygraph was used in different government agencies, for example, which format of polygraph test, what questions, with what instructions, etc. Andrew Ryan of the U.S. Department of Defense Polygraph Institute (DoDPI) served as a liaison to the committee from the government polygraph agencies, and was especially helpful in providing us with documentation and copies of research papers and manuscripts. David Renzelman and Anne Reed, Allen Brisentine, Paul Cully, and Alvina Jones arranged for visits with those in the polygraph programs at the Department of Energy, the National Security Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Central Intelligence Agency, respectively.
We also appreciate the information we received from many people who made presentations before the committee: Gary Berntson (Ohio State University), Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-New Mexico), Emanuel Donchin (University of Illinois), Lawrence Farwell (Brain Fingerprinting Laboratories, Inc.), General John A. Gordon (National Nuclear Security Administration), John Harris (Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory), Charles Honts (Boise State University), William Iacono (University of Minnesota), Stephen Kosslyn (Harvard University), Peter Lyons (Office of Senator Peter Domenici), Joseph Mahaley (Department of Energy), George Maschke (antipolygraph.org), Anne Reed (Department of Energy), Sheila Reed (North Texas State Hospital), David Renzelman (Department of Energy), Drew Richardson (Federal Bureau of Investigation, retired),
Andrew Ryan (Department of Defense Polygraph Insitute), and Alan P. Zelicoff (Sandia National Laboratory).
The events of September 11, 2001, and their aftermath briefly interrupted the committee’s activities, but more importantly, they reinforced for the committee the important roles that many of the agencies and organizations we had been visiting play in attempting to assure national security.
Late in the committee’s deliberative process, one of the committee members, John Cacioppo, resigned from the committee to pursue research he had initiated as a consequence of his work on the committee. John was a major contributor to the committee’s work, especially as it related to psychophysiology, and we owe him a great debt even though he was unable to assist us in the final revisions.
This report would not have been completed had it not been for the tremendous efforts of a number of key staff. Paul Stern served as study director and guided us from the outset, helping us to organize our work and to write the report. His insightful observations often forced us to rethink draft conclusions and summaries, and his good humor and gentle prodding made our writing tasks easier to accept. In summary, Paul was a partner in almost all of our tasks. Christine Hartel, director of the Board on Behavioral, Cognitive, and Sensory Sciences (BBCSS) stepped in at a crucial stage of the committee’s work and played a lead staff role when Paul was temporarily absent and has provided input and wise counsel throughout. Andrew White, director of the Committee on National Statistics, also participated in our meetings and offered assistance and support. Susan McCutchen worked on the full spectrum of the committee’s activities, secured documents for us, organized our research database, and interacted with representatives of the government polygraph agencies. Anne Mavor and James McGee, study directors, and Jerry Kidd, senior program officer on the BBCSS staff, assisted in the initial screening of articles for the committee’s literature review. Deborah Johnson provided valuable project assistance, particularly in making arrangements for the committee’s meetings and visits to agencies. Barbara Torrey, then executive director of the NRC’s Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education (DBASSE), and associate director Miron Straf, who developed the project initially, took a continuing interest in the work of the committee. We have also been fortunate to have the continuing wise counsel of Eugenia Grohman, director, DBASSE Reports Office, throughout the work of the committee. We are also grateful for help received from Nancy A. Obuchowski, at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, and Kevin S. Berbaum, at the University of Iowa, in acquainting us with existing software for receiver operating characteristic (ROC) analysis. Finally, we thank Aleksandra Slavkovic who provided technical statistical assis-
This report has been reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise, in accordance with procedures approved by the NRC’s Report Review Committee. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the institution in making the published report as sound as possible and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process.
We thank the following individuals for their participation in the review of this report: John F. Ahearne, Sigma Xi and Duke University; Gershon Ben-Shakhar, Department of Psychology, Hebrew University, Jerusalem; Roy D’Andrade, Department of Anthropology, University of California, San Diego; Paul Gianelli, School of Law, Case Western Reserve University; Bert F. Green, Jr., Professor of Psychology, Emeritus, Johns Hopkins University; James A. Hanley, Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, McGill University, Canada; Barbara C. Hansen, School of Medicine, University of Maryland, Baltimore; Ray Hyman, Department of Psychology, University of Oregon; Sallie Keller-McNulty, Statistical Sciences, Los Alamos National Laboratory; John Kircher, Department of Educational Psychology, University of Utah; James L. McGaugh, Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, University of California, Irvine; Gregory A. Miller, University of Illinois; William Revelle, Northwestern University; Anthony E. Siegman, McMurtry Professor of Engineering, Emeritus, Stanford University; Robert M. Stern, Pennsylvania State University; Stephen Stigler, Department of Statistics, University of Chicago; and James Woolsey, Shea & Gardner, Washington, DC.
Although the reviewers listed above have provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions or recommendations nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release. The review of this report was overseen by John Bailar, University of Chicago (emeritus), and Michael Posner, Department of Psychology, University of Oregon. Appointed by the National Research Council, they were responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with institutional procedures and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content of this report rests entirely with the authoring committee and the institution.
Stephen E. Fienberg, Chair
Committee to Review the Scientific Evidence on the Polygraph