Susan Gaidos writes for New Scientist magazine about recent research at the Department of Defense Polygraph Institute. Excerpt:
IT IS hard not to feel a little nervous. Andrew Ryan is trained to catch liars, and I am sitting in his lab at the US Department of Defence Polygraph Institute, preparing to lay a bald-faced whopper on him.
Earlier today, I participated in a mock crime, a short-lived melee that ended in aggravated assault, attempted murder and robbery. The act of stabbing a dummy in the chest and rifling through its purse has left me feeling more than a little guilty. My accomplice has instructed me to reveal nothing. But will my discomfort give me away?
Settling into a wide, comfortable chair, I begin answering questions, while a high-resolution infrared camera scrutinises my face, watching the blood swirl just beneath the surface of my skin. The camera forms part of a prototype for a new generation of lie detectors being developed by the US government. One day, they could be used to help unmask criminals, improve screening at border crossings and checkpoints, and perhaps interrogate terrorist suspects.
The drive towards new devices comes from a desire for something a cut above the “polygraph”, the standard lie detector whose rubber tubes and wires are familiar from TV and the movies. Scientists have long attacked the device as inconclusive, and in 2002 a report commissioned by the National Research Council (NRC) in Washington DC found that the polygraph’s performance falls well short of what is needed to tell the guilty from the innocent. As a result, the US Department of Energy began scaling back the polygraph security checks it was running on its own staff.