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How Lie Detectors Work

Polygraph Examiners

­­There are only two people in the room during a polygraph exam -- the person conducting the exam and the subject being tested. Today, some polygraph examiners prefer to be called forensic psychophysiologists (FPs). Because polygraph­ examiners are alone in the room with a test subject, his or her behavior greatly influences the results of the exam.

Crime Corner

­"It's a very serious factor when someone is being accus­ed of a crime," Lee said. "See, I don't care about the deceptive person. I'm looking for the innocent person. I'm their advocate. I'm totally unbiased and neutral when that person comes walking in. But as soon as I make that assessment that there's no deception indicated, I immediately become their advocate."

The forensic psychophysiologist has several tasks in performing a polygraph exam:

  • Setting up the polygraph and preparing the subject being tested
  • Asking questions
  • Profiling the test subject
  • Analyzing and evaluating test data

How the question is presented can greatly affect the results of a polygraph exam. There are several variables that an FP has to take into consideration, such as cultural and religious beliefs. Some topics may, by their mere mention, cause a specific reaction in the test subject that could be misconstrued as deceptive behavior. The design of the question affects the way the person processes the information and how he or she responds.

Who uses polygraphs?
Polygraphs are limited in their use in the private sector, but they are frequently used by the U.S. government. Here are some entities and occasions that may call for the use of a polygraph: ­

­There are approximately 3,500 polygraph examiners in the United States, 2,000 of which belong to a professional organization, according to Dr. Frank Horvath, a Michigan State University professor of criminal justice and a member of the American Polygraph Association.

Horvath is concerned about the credentials and qualifications of many polygraph examiners i­n the United States who do not belong to some sort of professional organization. Laws regarding polygraph licensing vary from state to state, and there is no government or private entity that controls polygraph licensing. Horvath also feels that training of polygraph examiners is inadequate.

"I just do not think the field is at the state where we would say that any polygraph examiner is the equal of all other polygraph examiners. That's just not so," Horvath said. "We have a number of standardization problems in terms of examiner qualifications that concern me enormously. You could buy a polygraph [instrument] tomorrow and come to Michigan and you wouldn't be able to practice here because we have a rigorous licensing law, but you could move down to Ohio and open a business tomorrow."

Today, some polygraph examiners take classes and work an internship in order to become an accredited examiner with national associations. Some states also require examiners to be trained. There are many schools around the United States that have been set up to train people to conduct polygraph exams. One of these schools is the Axciton International Academy, which was started by Lee. The school is accredited by the American Polygraph Association and certified by the American Association of Police Polygraphists.

Here are the steps that students at the Axciton Academy must complete before becoming licensed forensic pyschophysiologists:

  • Prior to enrolling in the school, students must possess a baccalaureate degree or have five years of investigative experience and an associates degree.
  • Students must attend and pass a 10-week intensive course. Curriculum includes psychology, physiology, ethics, history, question construction, psychological analysis of speech, chart analysis and test-data analysis.
  • Students must enter an internship program and conduct a minimum of 25 exams for actual cases. These exams are faculty reviewed. This internship can take anywhere from eight months to one year.

Following the completion of these requirements, the student becomes a polygrapher and may obtain a license in his or her state if that state requires one. There is no standardized test that all polygraph examiners must pass in order to practice.