Normal Topic A Criticism of Honts' Testimony on Countermeasures (Read 3696 times)
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A Criticism of Honts' Testimony on Countermeasures
Dec 18th, 2000 at 3:08pm
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Professor Charles R. Honts of Boise State University has frequently been called upon to testify in court on polygraph matters. He has more than once testified that his research indicates that mere knowledge of polygraph procedure is not enough to defeat a polygraph "test," and that "specific hands-on training" is required. The idea seems to be that since such "specific hands-on training" is hard to find, it's highly unlikely that anyone passing a polygraph "test" could have done so through the use of countermeasures.

But Professor Honts' conclusion goes well beyond the evidence of his research, as I will discuss below.

Let us first examine some examples of Professor Honts' claims. The following excerpt from his testimony in United States v. William Galbreth, the complete transcript of which may be read on Professor Honts' Polygraph Law Resource Page at

5 Q There has been some testimony about the

6 concept of countermeasures. Could you briefly explain

7 to us what research you're aware of or have conducted on

8 the subject and whether countermeasures are effective in

9 defeating the polygraph test?

10 A Yes, that is a very large question. I have

11 done a number of studies personally addressing the

12 effects of countermeasures. Our primary interests there

13 was in the national security setting because the great

14 concern in the national security setting is that a

15 person who is hiding their involvement with a foreign

16 government is going to penetrate the national security

17 systems and cause our government damage. And so the

18 cost of a false negative outcome is extremely high.

19 And the model that we took in undertaking

20 this research is that those people, hostile intelligence

21 officers, have access to all the information that is

22 available about how polygraph tests work and how

23 physiological responses might be reduced. And we try to

24 model that in the laboratory and give people the

25 advantage of that training.



1 And if I can be brief, I will summarize that.

2 If people have high quality training and are given full

3 information, our studies and the studies vary but if you

4 average across them somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 of the

5 people we train can beat the test. The research also

6 indicates that simply reading about it, going in and

7 finding the information that is available in libraries,

8 there are a couple of sort of underground publications

9 about beating the polygraph, giving people that kind of

10 information is not sufficient. They need the specific

11 hands-on training that we have done to model what goes

12 on at the spot.

And in U.S. v. Gilliard, Professor Honts testified (

...So that's like you go out and you take something out of the library and read it, and then tested those people [sic]. And just reading about it did not prove to be effective. We were only able to get people to beat the test when we actually gave them specific training. And that was mentioned earlier. We talked about the context of the study. We had trainers who specifically sat people down, read them lists of questions, said do this now, watched them using the countermeasure, coached the [sic] on how to do it. And it seems to be that the training is required because the information alone does not seem to be effective.

The other piece of evidence we have is that over the years in our laboratory studies we've been debriefing people. And we have guilty control groups in all these studies, it's your guilty people who go through the mock crime but don't receive any countermeasure training. Many of them say they try to beat the test. They've watched 60 Minutes or they've read David Lykken's book.

They've read other things in the library. They found a Reid and Enbouls [sic: Inbau] book, they've read that. None of them are able to beat the test. There seems to be something about the training that's required, and so I don't think that going to the library and reading one of these scientific articles is going to give a person enough information to beat the test, at least not very many people.

In an order admitting polygraph "evidence" over obejection in federal court ( in the same case, Judge G.R. Smith seems to have accepted Honts' testimony, as it had not been challenged:

Dr. Honts testified that it is possible for some subjects to defeat a control question polygraph test by using certain physical or mental countermeasures, such as a subtle tensing of the muscles, biting the tongue, or doing mental arithmetic in response to the control questions. Indeed, studies indicate that, with proper  training, up to fifty percent of the population can learn to beat the test. The research indicates, however, that in order for  countermeasures to be effective the subject must receive some  specialized training in their use and that merely furnishing a subject with information about countermeasures does not appear to work. Furthermore, Dr. Honts testified that when the polygraph  test is scored by means of a computerized analysis of the subject's physiological responses (a relatively new innovation in the field of polygraphy) only about fifteen percent of those trained in countermeasures were successful in beating the test. The government's experts did not dispute this research or place much emphasis upon countermeasures in their testimony.

Honts' studies of polygraph countermeasures are published in:

Honts, Charles R., Robert L. Hodes, and David C. Raskin. (1985)
"Effects of Physical Countermeasures on the Physiological Detection
of Deception," Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 70
(1985), No. 1, pp. 177-87


Honts, Charles R., David C. Raskin, and John C. Kircher. (1994) "Mental
and Physical Countermeasures Reduce the Accuracy of Poly-graph
Tests," Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 79 (1994), No.
2, pp. 252–59.

Abstracts of both of these articles are included in the annotated bibliography of The Lie Behind the Lie Detector.

Now, here's what Professor Honts didn't explain to the court: in his research purporting to indicate that merely being furnished with information about polygraphy doesn't enable persons to defeat polygraph "testing" and that "hands-on training" is required, the "information only" subjects of his experiments were provided a maximum of 15 minutes of instruction!

Is it reasonable to suppose that anyone reading about how to pass a polygraph "test" will limit his study to 15 minutes?! If you were studying polygraph countermeasures -- whether to protect yourself from a false positive outcome or to deliberately deceive a polygraph examiner about relevant issues -- would you devote no more than a mere 15 minutes to it?

I don't think so. And I don't think most courts would think so either.

Here's the next salient point that Professor Honts left out: those subjects who were given "hands-on training" in countermeasures received a maximum of 30 minutes of instruction. Graduate students read them a script teaching them about the theory of the "Control" Question "Test" and explaining how to apply either physical or mental countermeasures while answering the "control" questions. Then the volunteers practiced a bit. 30 minutes maximum.

This too, is an unrealistically short period of "training." If  anything, Honts' research suggests that it takes little instruction and practice to learn how to defeat a polygraph "test."

Another weakness of Honts' laboratory studies is that his subjects were student volunteers who hoped to receive extra credit. They had precious little at stake in their polygraph "tests." They would have had considerably less motivation to apply themselves than those in the real world whose reputations, careers, and/or liberty may depend on the opinion rendered by a polygraph chartgazer.

When Honts asserts that "[t]he research indicates...that in order for  countermeasures to be effective the subject must receive some  specialized training in their use and that merely furnishing a subject with information about countermeasures does not appear to work," he makes a claim that goes far beyond what the evidence of his research suggests.

The next time Professor Honts makes this tenuous assertion in court, someone should call him on it.

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A Criticism of Honts' Testimony on Countermeasures

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