“Vocal Stress Can Betray You in a Lie”

Julie Novak uncritically reports on Computerized Voice Stress Analysis in this single-source Narragansett Times article. Excerpt:

NARRAGANSETT – If you want to tell a lie, don’t tell it to Narragansett Police Lt. Vincent Carlone.

The department’s head of detectives has learned how to analyze vocal stress, and with the assistance of a laptop computer he’s prepared to play “Truth or Consequences” with any suspect who’s brought in for questioning.

Last Friday, Carlone completed an Advanced Examiners Course at the National Institute for Truth Verification in West Palm Beach, Florida. Carlone was among 120 participants from all over the country, and the only one from Rhode Island, in the week-long course.

The program trains only members of the law enforcement community in how to use the Computer Voice Stress Analyzer, an investigative tool that assesses the amount of stress in a subject’s voice to indicate deception.

“I’m currently the only certified examiner in the department, but we have plans to train more personnel,” Carlone said. “This really is a wonderful tool.”

The Stress Analyzer requires no wires be attached to a subject being questioned. A multi-functional laptop computer, the analyzer requires only a microphone plugged into the system. As the subject speaks, the computer displays each voice pattern in the form of a graph, numbers it, and saves each chart to a specific file.

“The graphs are activated by the discreet changes in the human voice,” Carlone explained as he demonstrated the equipment Tuesday.

Micro tremors, he said, are tiny frequency modulations in the human voice. When someone is lying, the automatic, or involuntary nervous system, causes an inaudible increase in the micro tremor’s frequency. Once the Stress Analyzer detects, measures, and displays changes in the voice frequency, they are processed graphically and display a picture of the voice patterns.

“An angular and steep pattern is good, but a horizontal or box-like pattern indicates stress or deception,” Carlone said.

In the advanced course, Carlone learned to use new and different patterns of questioning, called formats. The Stress Analyzer has built-in questioning formats, but also allows an investigator the freedom to create his or her own line of questioning.

“You use different types of formats depending on what the investigation is,” Carlone said. “I can tailor my questions so they are applicable to the situation.

“Sometimes you have to be graphic so a subject understands what you’re getting at. If I asked a subject if they sexually assaulted someone, they might not understand what that means so I would have to ask about specific details.”

The Stress Analyzer is not restricted to yes or no answers and is able to accurately analyze recordings of unstructured conversations.

Wary of giving away any “trade secrets,” Carlone said that using a variety of questions allows investigators to make comparisons and evaluate specific lines of questioning applicable to an investigation.

First introduced in 1988, the original Stress Analyzer was an analog computer. It has progressed into its current digitized form and is effective in all investigative situations such as homicide, sex crimes, robbery, white collar crimes, as well as pre-employment examinations for background investigators.

“This machine has really made the difference for us in serious investigations,” Carlone said.

Cases of sexual assault and breaking and entering and larceny in Narragansett have been cleared up easily because of the Stress Analyzer, Carlone said.

“What I like best about it is clearing innocent people. You can have a group of people pointing the finger at someone, but if they come out fine on the test then you can clear them. It’s nice to be able to clear someone from blame.”

It is an unsettling thought that the head of detectives of a municipal police department would believe that suspects can be cleared (or not cleared) based on a pseudoscientific voice stress analysis “test.” Narragansett Times reporter Julie Novak’s unquestioning parroting of Detective Carlone’s claims is evocative of the uncritical early 20th century reporting that helped to entrench polygraph “testing” in popular American mythology.

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