The purpose of this report is to analyze a popular psychology myth, as identified from Lilienfield’s paper on the myths of popular psychology (2010). The myth chosen to be questioned and researched is myth number 23 in the book, entitled “The Polygraph (“Lie Detector”) Test Is an Accurate Means of Detecting Dishonesty”. This myth is important and a topic of interest due to the fact that polygraph tests are often used in law enforcement to gauge culpability, and are often used in popular culture on television shows such as “Jeremy Kyle USA”, wherein the premise of the polygraph test is often to determine if an individual has be unfaithful to their partner (Smethurst et al, 2015). The research paper that was chosen to dispute the myth is a research paper by Honts and Kircher (1994), in which the researchers proposed that the accuracy of the polygraph test can be decreased by counter-measures performed by the individual being tested, in order to skew the results.
The 1994 article by Honts and Kircher discusses the ongoing debate surrounding the validity of the polygraph test. Many researchers over the past few decades have been skeptical of the ability of the polygraph to accurately detect lies ( Lykken, 1981). The worrisome consequences of this are discussed, such as the fact that many law enforcement groups uses the apparatus (Honts & Perry, 1992), as well as various country’s national security teams ( Honts, 1991). The paper touches on the subject of how the blind trust of such equipment has the potential to ruin lives, with suspects being rules guilty or denied access to a country due to the results of the polygraph.
The research itself uses a sample of 120 subjects to test the polygraph equipment. The subjects were random, chosen from the general community. In order to fully test the validity of the test, the research used a mix of guilty subjects, non-guilty subjects, and subjects that had been trained to perform counter measures to try and ‘fool’ the polygraph. The guilty subjects were tasked to ‘steal’ a rare coin. In total, 20 subjects were innocent, and 100 were guilty. 80 of these guilty subjects had been trained to use counter measures, which were a combination of physical (biting the tongue, pushing toes into the floor) and mental (performing difficult mathematical equations in the head while being questioned). The technique is used during control questions, which are used to find base levels of variables being tested, and then – in theory – repeated during relevant questions to gain the same level.
The resultant data from the study found that the counter measures were able to produce incorrect results on the polygraph 50% of the time. This led the researchers to conclude that control question polygraph tests were able to be beaten by the counter-measures undertaken.
Based on the literature research, it is concluded that the myth can truly be debunked. The fact that easily performed counter measures can defeat the polygraph 50% of the time, falsifies the statement that the polygraph tests are an accurate means of detecting dishonesty. The polygraph was equally fooled by the physical and mental counter measures; the mental counter measures are impossible to detect, and the physical techniques are difficult, but possible, to detect. This means that the test can easily be passed by someone trained in these counter measures.
The research paper was very comprehensive; the study was thoroughly completed, with random subjects, control measures performed where necessary and the results were interpreted intelligently. The research was sound and the outcome was unquestionable. The article is largely-cited, and for good reason, it is undeniable proof that the lie detector can be beaten.
- Honts, C. R. (1991). The emperor’s new clothes: Application of polygraph tests in the American workplace. Forensic Reports, ¥,91-116.
- Honts, C. R., & Kircher, J. C. (1994). Mental and physical countermeasures reduce the accuracy of polygraph tests. Journal of Applied Psychology, 79(2), 252.
- Honts, C. R., & Perry, M. V. (1992). Polygraph admissibility: Changes and challenges. Law and Human Behavior, 16, 357-379.
- Lilienfeld, S. O., Lynn, S. J., Ruscio, J., & Beyerstain, B. L. (2010). 50 great myths about popular psychology: Shattering widespread misconceptions about human behavior. Wiley-Blackwell, Wiley & Sons, ltd., Publications. Retrieved May 29, 2017 and downloadable from www.academia.edu/7866112/50_GREAT_MYTHS_OF_POPULAR_PSYCHOLOGY
- Lykken, D. T. (1981). Tremor in the blood: Uses and abuses of the lie detector. New \brk: McGraw-Hill.
- Smethurst, A., Wilson, C. J., & Collins, K. (2015). The Influence of fMRI Lie Detection Evidence on Jury Decision Making Following Post Trial Deliberations. Applied Psychology in Criminal Justice.