How accurate are online lie detector tests?

lie detector tests

Type in “online lie detector test” to any search engine and you will get a variety of responses:

Some will be joke or fun “lie detector tests” where you can click on your answers to a pre-set list of questions about various humiliating or illegal acts you may or may not have performed and gain a result that says whether you are an honest or dishonest person.

These results are based on the general population’s probability of having done these things, how much you admit to and/or your response times. That’s on a good day; they may just be automatically set to say you are honest most of the time and throw in the occasional dishonest just so that people think they are real.

These tests are just for fun and, whilst they can be good for entertainment purposes or even a party game with friends, you won’t be able to take the results as a valid or reliable judgement as to whether someone really has a truthful or deceptive nature. You also will be unable to ask the questions you really want answers to, so best to take these for what they are; a laugh.

Some sites will declare that they can offer a 100% accurate, genuine lie detector test over the internet without you or they need to even leave the comfort of a chair or desk. They will ask you to pay the full amount by card, most likely with an accompanying spiel about statistics and rates of success and some made-up technical jargon about how their test works and will not fail you.

There will doubtless be numerous fake reviews alongside all of this. Once they have taken your money, either you will get no further contact or the “next” page on the website won’t ever load, or you will receive some arbitrary push-button test that will prove nothing at all for the reasons stated below. 

In the best-case scenario these providers might follow through on the process of providing a seemingly bona fide lie detector test; they might post you out the kit to sit the test and they might even provide an examiner who interacts with you through text, phone or even camera or online platform. This leaves a lot of room for error though and takes away the expertise of the examiner and the influence they exert over how valid and reliable the results are; you may place the sensors incorrectly on the body meaning that accurate data is not achieved or you could even place them on someone else or the family dog if no one is watching!

(ok so this is a little far fetched but not outside the realms of possibility!). The examiner will also miss out on the 1:1 in-person interaction that provides the indicators that talking through text or phone or even viewing someone through a camera cannot provide. The polygraph examiner in a genuine lie detector test will observe the subject’s body language and general presentation; they will look for indicators of deception within this, attempts to evade or be uncooperative and also signals that someone has used a substance prior to the test.

If they pick up on something they are not sure about or possibly hints at dishonesty, they are able to adapt their approach or the test itself to dig further into this and explore what they have observed. An examiner not being with you in person when you sit a lie detector test greatly impacts on their ability to fully assess and interpret the situation; data from the physiological response is not the only guiding tool that a polygraph examiner uses when making decisions around whether a person has been deceptive or not.

Some online lie detector tests claim that they are able to determine from your “voice stress” whether you are being honest or not. Human beings have control over their voice except in the most extreme of situations; sitting in your living room telling an unknown person at the end of the phone that you didn’t steal £50 from your nan is unlikely to feel like an extreme situation or have that kind of impact of you.

People can practice and prepare for this kind of test relatively easily and emotion such as becoming upset, crying or even pretending to cry can distort the voice significantly. This doesn’t always mean you are lying, this can mean you are nervous or anxious or genuinely upset about the issues surrounding the lie detector test you have requested.

Proper polygraph examination uses several different physiological responses to gain recordings and data from and there is good reason and research and evidence behind this; a single measure of physiological change has already been found many decades ago to not provide an accurate indicator of deception. There is no evidence base or research supporting the claim that your voice alone can indicate deception or honesty so don’t spend your money on these tests; you are likely to receive results that are completely wrong and essentially pretty random. 

Lastly, there are also sites on the internet that sell “prank” lie detector tests. These are where one of your friends (or enemies!) have purchased a joke lie detector test that is sent to you online for you take part in.

The idea behind these can range from a gentle bit of teasing and a laugh amongst friends to a nasty trick to play on an ex-partner (or current partner if you’ve had a particularly unpleasant row!), work colleague or business associate to make them think they are going to be found out for something the sender thinks they did. If you get sent a lie detector test online that you did not request likelihood is this is a prank and won’t provide any accurate results (or probably any result at all).

There is no need for you to take part in this or to take it seriously so don’t worry. If you think it’s a joke from a well-meaning friend and want to play along – go ahead! But if you think there may be a more harmful or sinister motive behind this just delete it along with all the other junk mail!

At the end of the day, there is very little you can’t get online these days, or at least very little that online providers and websites won’t promise to deliver.

If you want to take part in an online lie detector test for fun or entertainment purposes, there is no harm in this as long as you apply caution to the results and don’t get caught up in thinking they have any meaning at all – they don’t and you are not a dishonest person just because an online quiz says you are! If you want to get genuine and accurate answers to an issue that is affecting your personal life and wellbeing, you need to book a professional and they need to meet with the person sitting the lie detector test in person as this is a vital part of the process and critical to obtaining valid and accurate results.

Don’t get taken in by the false promises of online detector tests; the results of such a test are likely to be highly significant to you and your life if you are applying such deep consideration to them, and a fake test or inadequate test is not fair on you or anyone involved in the issue you want answers to. The best advice is to get the job done properly by a professional polygraph examiner who will meet the subject in person and undertake the test in the correct and proper manner, as it has been designed to carried out following decades of research and development.

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