Many people hold the view that you can pass or “beat” a lie detector test even if you are lying, and there are plenty of articles across the internet suggesting tips and techniques that you can employ to appear honest when you are sitting a polygraph examination.
The main thing that people seem to overlook, especially those writing these “helpful” tips and guides to beat a lie detector test, is that polygraphy and the researchers and scientists that work in this field, and the polygraph examiners themselves, know about this! We read the same articles you read, and we are aware of all these alleged hints to pass lie detector testing.
Polygraph examiners do not approach a lie detector test with the assumption that everyone is going to be super helpful and cooperative and present the textbook physiological responses that are required to easily and irrefutably detect deception. If someone has agreed to take a lie detector test when they are being dishonest, we know that they have not just resigned themselves to being “found out”. We know that they are intending to try and pass the test and hoping that they can achieve this.
Some people approaching polygraph examination with the intention of lying are just going on a wing and a prayer that polygraphy doesn’t really work, that their body is somehow different to the majority or that perhaps the tester will be having an off day.
Some attend with a strategy or plan that they have gained (probably from the above-mentioned articles on the internet) and will try to employ one of the many techniques advised such as biting their tongue, solving complex maths problems in their head, trying to place themselves in a zen-like tranquil state or trying to work themselves into a continuous highly aroused state so that any peaks within physiological responses don’t stand out as they are constantly peaking all over the place anyway.
Some individuals who wish to “pass” a lie detector test and keep their deception hidden prepare themselves for the test; trying to desensitise themselves to the issue at the heart of the test and practice any questions that they think will come up to train their body to not react when this matter or these questions are presented to them.
Some people use substances prior to the lie detector test that they think will calm their physiological responses and do not inform the examiner when asked about the use of any drug or substance prior to the test or in chronic form.
A few individuals will try to appeal to the examiner’s better nature, appearing desperate and distraught and emphatically pleading their innocence and becoming emotional. They explain to the examiner the grave consequences of failing this test for their life and wellbeing, and how shocked and deeply offended and hurt they are to be accused of such a thing in the hope that the examiner will form a biased view before the test even begins and will interpret data and make allowances based on this.
There are a million and one different techniques and behaviours employed by persons who know they are being deceptive but want the lie detector test to find them honest that are simply too numerous to list here. However, the stumbling block is that this is the exact scenario that polygraph examination is designed to deal with. The assumption made within polygraphy is that someone is going to try to lie and not be found out; the entire design and development of the polygraph examination is built around preventing this and there are significant countermeasures in place within polygraphy to do so.
A polygraph examination is a science and an art; the widely held assumption is that it consists only of sensors being attached to the body, questions being asked and the recordings from physiological responses given when those questions are asked and answered being interpreted to conclude whether a person is lying or telling the truth. The reality is that a lie detector test is far more complex and comprehensive than this.
The examination starts when the subject meets the examiner; the examiner will observe the body language and presentation of the individual and will conduct a pre-interview with them. This allows the examiner to gain the views and background story for the basis of the test from the subject’s perspective and for the examiner to explain the testing process to them, all the time observing the behaviour of the subject whilst doing so. The examiner will also be looking to ascertain any indicators of substance use within the subject that they have not declared, and which might impact on testing and results.
The examiner will notice if the subject is in a psychological or physiological state not conducive to obtaining data to achieve an accurate result and will work with the individual to support them to calm down, and if this is not possible the examiner will delay or postpone testing to a time when the subject can be a state that enables valid polygraph examination. Similarly, the examiner will also notice if someone presents in a particularly calm and relaxed state as this is not usual within a lie detector test and will likely induce the examiner to probe deeper and ask questions around this and the significance of the test for the subject’s life and future and will be direct and persistent within this; this is usually enough to break the meditative trance of anyone attempting this strategy!
A lie detector test involves the administration of a practice or “acquaintance” test prior to the actual main examination which enables the examiner to understand the baseline bodily responses that the subject is presenting with on that particular day so any use of substances to reduce physiological reactions will become irrelevant and any differences that an individual has to the norm in terms of their behaviour in situations of lying will be identified and incorporated into analysis.
Polygraph examination also includes developed question language or wording as well as evidence-based question order formatting. The set of questions and the language used within these is carefully designed and formulated to provide a counter measure to attempts to deceive and to manipulate physiological set up so that even the most prepared and desensitised of candidates react to deception.
The examiner will also spot any attempts to defeat the test through tongue biting, constant fidgeting, interrupting the test or general evasion and will note this as purposeful non-cooperation which would provide an inconclusive result and would also cause the examiner to hold that view that deception was intended, and this will be advised on the report provided following the test.
Admittedly, there are situations where things can go wrong and lie detector testing can fail to achieve a clear result. Lie detector testing is generally around 87.5% accurate and there are instances where the outcome is inconclusive or where human error occurs (as in every human endeavour) or where technological failure happens. There are very few numbers of individuals whom, due to cognitive function anomalies for a variety of reasons, do not respond or react physiologically to threat or fear and therefore will not present with a bodily change that can indicate deception. These people could theoretically beat a lie detector test but are extremely rare.
In essence, it is within the realms of possibility to pass a lie detector test when you are lying but it’s very unlikely – the best advice is not to rely on so called strategies and techniques you have learned from the internet or a helpful mate but to just not take the test if you intend to lie. The probability is that you will be found out.