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The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine
Board On Behavioral Cognitive and Sensory Sciences
Board On Behavioral Cognitive and Sensory Sciences
Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education

The Polygraph and Lie Detection


Polygraph cover




Consensus Report

The polygraph is commonly used in criminal investigation, employment screening, and counter-intelligence. However, among experts its use in many circumstances is still controversial. The charge to the Committee to Review the Scientific Evidence on the Polygraph was, “to conduct a scientific review of the research on polygraph examinations that pertains to their validity and reliability, in particular for personnel security screening,” (i.e., employee screening, and preemployment screening). The committee focused its efforts mainly on the validity of the polygraph, meaning that the polygraph actually measures what it is supposed to be measuring.
The committee’s report, The Polygraph and Lie Detection, specifically considers:
  • The theory of how the polygraph works and evidence about how deceptiveness and other psychological conditions affect the physiological responses that the polygraph measures.
  • Empirical evidence on the performance of the polygraph and the success of subjects’ countermeasures.
  • The actual use of the polygraph in the arena of national security, including its role in deterring threats to security.
The report addresses the difficulties of measuring polygraph accuracy and the usefulness of the technique for aiding interrogation and for deterrence. The report also includes potential alternatives such as voice-stress analysis and brain measurement techniques. Finally, the report provides a recommendation that further research into methods for detecting security threats should be undertaken, and a recommendation that agencies should be better made aware of the strengths and limitations of the techniques they use.


































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