Admitting deception – Why polygraph confessions may not signal guilt?

The polygraph, or lie detector test, is premised on the idea that lying causes measurable changes in the body. Through sensors monitoring respiration, heart rate, blood pressure, and sweat response, the assumption is that signs of deception are detected. But there is one confounding variable the phenomenon of false positives. We’ll cover the variables that lead to false failing results, the consequences of false positives, and safeguards against polygraph-induced false confessions. When admissions get entangled with bad science, major injustices occur.

Fallibility of polygraph testing

While commonly believed to be foolproof, polygraph testing is far from infallible. The technology has substantial reliability and validity issues that make it prone to errors. Here are some of the factors that lead to false positive outcomes.

  • Interpretation Issues – There is no distinct, universal physiological reaction that signals lies. The assessment relies heavily on the examiner’s judgment in analyzing responses.
  • Situational Variables – Stress, anxiety, health issues, and other factors can alter responses without relation to truthfulness.
  • Countermeasures – Simple physical actions artificially skew results, including altering breathing pace or inducing pain to create reactions.
  • Confirmation Bias – An examiner may perceive responses negatively if they presume the subject is guilty or lying.

Due to these issues, estimates of polygraph accuracy range widely, but consistently indicate significant error rates. When mistakes occur, innocent people end up falsely appearing deceptive.

Coercive nature of polygraph interrogation

During a polygraph examination, examinees are told the machine is an infallible lie detector. They are instructed to answer all questions truthfully to avoid “failure.” This setup inherently introduces psychological pressure to “pass” the test. In this high-stakes scenario, confrontation by the examiner pushes some innocent subjects to make up admissions in the hope of explaining away any reactions. Examiners may also ask intrusive or embarrassing questions, encouraging false admissions to seem less deceptive. False confessions stemming from polygraph sessions occur frequently enough that the phenomenon has its name the false failure effect.

Consequences of false positives

  • Reputational damage – Careers and relationships may be severely impacted by perceptions of dishonesty.
  • False confessions – To mitigate “failure,” innocent people may make untrue admissions or even confess to crimes they did not commit.
  • Wrongful convictions – Despite inadmissibility in court, polygraph results influence investigations and have contributed to false convictions.
  • Psychological trauma – Those falsely labeled as liars experience shame, stress, and deteriorating mental health.

When polygraph results are misinterpreted, the cost to individuals, families, and society as a whole is profound. Safeguards are needed to protect examinees. lie detector test locations across USAserve a role in investigations, but only with substantial safeguards in place. Given the technology’s limitations, admissions and confessions that stem from these interrogations should not be presumed true indications of deception. Too often, false results accompanied by psychological coercion lead the innocent to make incriminating statements. Before accepting polygraph-induced confessions, all available evidence must be weighed to avoid unjust outcomes.

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