"new" polygraph and interrogation methods, from the APA
Allen L. Barker
alb at datafilter.com
Mon Aug 16 00:29:02 EST 2004
Combating Terrorism: Responses From the Behavioral Sciences
In January following a request from Presidential Science Advisor, John
Marburger, APA's Science Directorate initiated a call for examples of
research vignettes that might inform (directly or indirectly)
strategies to deal with the aftermath of the nations terrorist
attacks. Over the past three months many in the field have rallied and
APA's Senior Scientist, Susan Brandon, has taken charge of archiving
and disseminating that information (see below).
Statement of the problem: How can we detect when someone is lying? An
improvement over the traditional polygraph.
Relevant research: Current lie detection methods, based on the
polygraph technique, rely upon detecting changes in the physiological
characteristics of a subject while they are asked a series of
questions. Among the physiological characteristics measured are
respiration rate, skin resistivity, blood pressure, and heart rate.
The question methods vary. Each involves comparisons between
physiological responses to presumably innocuous questions and those
that elicit emotional reactions.  For example, the Guilty
Knowledge Test consists of asking a person a series of multiple choice
questions, all dealing with facts with which only those knowledgeable
about a crime would be familiar. The test assumes that the guilty
individual's recognition of the correct multiple choice alternative
that contains actual details of the crime will lead to stronger
physiological responses than to incorrect alternatives.
There are two main problems with the current method. The first is that
it relies on monitoring natural physiological responses which may
fluctuate for reasons other than deception. The second problem is that
it is vulnerable to the deployment of countermeasures by the
subject. People who are aware of how strong physiological responses to
questions are taken as indicative of truthfulness or deceit can
manipulate their bodies to produce exaggerated results, for example,
by holding their breath (decrease respiration) or by constricting the
anal sphincter muscle, tongue-biting, or thinking of exciting thoughts
(increase heart rate). As a result, these methods produce false
negatives (a deception is missed) and false alarms (the person is not
lying, but inquisitor believes the person is).
Because of the effectiveness of such countermeasures, there is a need
for a detectable response to lying that cannot be manipulated by the
subject during testing.
Implications for counter-terrorism: The new methodology is one where
the person is conditioned to produce a unique, involuntary, innocuous,
and (to the subject) visibly undetectable, physiological response that
does not occur naturally (that is, without the conditioning
protocol). This response, which is not under the voluntary control of
the person nor are they even aware that they are making it, then
serves as the baseline against which changes (reactions to questions)
can be assessed. Feasibility data indicate that this procedure is more
accurate (shows a lower false alarm rate) and more sensitive (shows a
lower false negative rate) than the traditional method. 
The application of this new methodology to instances of subject
interrogation and recruitment assessment are clear. Very importantly,
this methodology can be used cross-culturally, because the underlying
physiology is not culturally determined.
Statement of the problem: How do we measure attitudes that a person
may be trying to hide?
Relevant research: Decades ago, psychologists showed that semantic
meaning could be activated rapidly and spontaneously by the mere
presentation of a word, and that this meaning would, in turn, activate
associated concepts in the mind.  There is compelling evidence
that people can evaluate words automatically -- that is, without
conscious awareness. For example, if an experimenter presents a series
of pairs of words, with the first word (the prime) appearing for 200
ms, and the second (the target) appearing 100 ms later, people make
faster decisions as to whether the target had a positive or negative
emotional loading when the prime and target are evaluatively congruent
(i.e., both are negative or both are positive) than when they are
incongruent.  Note that this decision is made without the person's
awareness that the prime occurred. These results, given the conditions
under which the stimuli were presented, show that the participants are
evaluating the primes without conscious control, which means that
deception is very unlikely.
Researchers interested in assessing intergroup stereotypes and
prejudices at the unconscious level have employed similar
procedures. For example, race prejudice can be measured by pairing
Black and White face primes with target adjectives. White participants
have been shown to respond faster to Black-negative and White-positive
pairs than Black-positive and White-negative pairs. 
Implications for counter-terrorism: This technique can be used to
interrogate or interview individuals who are trying to hide certain
attitudes or prejudices that they know will be condemned by the
interviewer or that will identify them as belonging to some criminal
 Sokolov, E. N; Cacioppo, J. T. (1997). Orienting and defense
reflexes: Vector coding the cardiac response. Lang, P. J. & Simons,
R. F. (Eds.); et al. , Attention and orienting: Sensory and
motivational processes, pp. 1-22. Mahwah, NJ.
 Cacioppo, J. T; Tassinary, L. G. (1989). The concept of
attitudes: A psychophysiological analysis. Wagner, H., & Manstead,
A. (Eds.). Handbook of social psychophysiology, pp. 309-346. Oxford,
England: John Wiley & Sons.
 Posner, M. I., & Snyder, C. R. R. (1975). Facilitation and
inhibition in the processing of signals. In P. M. A. Rabbit &
S. Dornic (Eds.), Attention and performance (Vol. V, pp. 669-682). New
York: Academic Press.
 Bargh, J. A., Chaiken, S., Govender, R., & Pratto, F. (1992). The
generality of the automatic attitude activation effect. Journal of
Personality and Social Psychology, 62, 893-912.
 Fazio, R. H., Sanbonmatsu, D. M., Powell, M. C., & Kardes,
F. R. (1986). On the automatic activation of attitudes. Journal of
Personality and Social Psychology, 50, 229-238.
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