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Accuracy and Utility of Polygraph Testing

NCJ Number
Date Published
143 pages
An analysis of the scientific literature on the accuracy of the polygraph, with supporting information on use and utility as prepared by the Department of Defense, is presented.
Information on polygraph use in the Federal Government, particularly the Department of Defense, focuses on the number of examiners and annual polygraph utilization by Federal agencies. The polygraph as an aid in criminal investigation and exculpatory examination is discussed; data and examples on criminal conduct revealed during screening examinations are presented. The history of the use of polygraph examinations in intelligence, counterintelligence and security is included; specific examples of polygraph examination revealing espionage are cited. A survey of the history of traditional polygraph methods from 1953 to 1983 looks at testing techniques, such as zone comparison, modified general question, relevant/irrelevant association, and peak of tension method. Also reviewed are (1) Research on polygraph criterion validity and reliability based on laboratory and field studies, (2) studies investigating the relationship between the examiner's decision and the criteria of truth and deception, and (3) studies investigating the relationship between the decision of a blind examiner and actual truth or deception using verified polygraph cases. A discussion of problems and issues involved in lie detection finds evidence suggesting that control question tests may be more accurate in detecting the deception of the guilty person than in verifying the truthfulness of the< innocent person. Research studies to determine the validity and reliability of the polygraph in a field setting are also summarized. Tabular data and 38 references are provided