What is a Polygraph Examination?
A System To Measure Physiological Responses To Psychological Stimulus
The Polygraph Science Center will answer questions about what a polygraph exam or polygraph test is, and explain the different phases of a polygraph test.
The term "polygraph" literally means "many writings." The name refers to the manner in which selected physiological activities are simultaneously recorded. Polygraph examiners may use conventional instruments, sometimes referred to as analog instruments, or computerized polygraph instruments.
It may be important to the inquirer to understand what the polygraph examination process entails. A polygraph instrument will collect physiological data from at least three systems in the human body. Corrugated rubber tubes that are placed over the examinee's chest and abdominal area will sense respiratory activity and record it. Two small metal plates, attached to the fingers' tips, will sense sweat gland activity and record it. In addition, a blood pressure cuff, or similar device will be placed on the arm and inflated to record cardiovascular activity.
A typical polygraph examination will start with:
1.) Pre-test phase
During the pre-test phase, the polygraph examiner will complete the required paperwork and talk with the examinee about the test. During this period, the examiner will discuss the questions to be asked and familiarize the examinee with the testing procedure.
2.) Chart collection phase
During the chart collection phase, the examiner will administer and collect a number of polygraph charts. This usually begins with an acquaintance test that allows the examinee to experience the instrumentation and for the examiner to adapt to the examinee's individual physiology.
3.) Test data analysis phase.
Following the actual testing, the examiner will analyze the charts and render an opinion as to the truthfulness of the person taking the test. This statement is based on numerical scoring.
The examiner, when appropriate, will offer the examinee an opportunity to explain physiological responses in relation to one or more questions asked during the test. It is important to note that a polygraph does not include the analysis of physiology associated with the voice. Instruments that claim to record voice stress are not polygraphs and have not been shown to have scientific validity.
Who uses Polygraph Examinations?
The three segments of society that use the polygraph include: the legal community, public agencies, and the private sector. They are further described below:
Legal Community - U.S. Attorney Offices, District Attorney Offices, Public Defender Offices, Defense Attorneys, Parole and Probation Departments make effective use of the polygraph system. Many pretrial decisions are made, based on a polygraph examination, in cases that lack substantial physical or eye witness evidence.
Attorneys in Civil Litigation - Lawyers seeking to support a client's position may seek to verify a statement.
Public Safety Agencies - Federal Law Enforcement Agencies, Courts, Correction or Detention Agencies, Security Firms, School Resource Officers, Fire Departments, Ambulance Services, State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies, such as Police and Sheriff's Departments, use polygraph examinations. These organizations make extensive use of pre-employment polygraph examinations to support a background examination. They also use this testing to support their investigation efforts. We also support Unions who are defending their Public Safety Member Clients.
Private Sector - Companies and Corporations under the restrictions and limitations of the Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988 (EPPA) may look to the Act's "Ongoing Investigations" exceptions to address issues of economic loss. Certain industries may use polygraph for pre-employment testing.
Private Citizens - Individuals seeking a resolution to personal matters not involving the legal or criminal justice system will sometimes turn to a polygraph resolution. This usually relates to suspected infidelity by a mate or inappropriate behavior by a child in the family. In other personal matters, Polygraph examination can support the confirmation of an affidavit.
Psychologists - Treatment providers seeking assistance in determining if a person in counseling is being truthful or deceitful about their behavior thus helping patients break through denial.
Can employers ask for a Polygraph Examination?
CAN I ASK AN EMPLOYEE TO TAKE A POLYGRAPH TEST?
YES, under certain conditions an employer may ask personnel to submit to a polygraph examination. Such examinations are regulated and it is in the best interest of the company to carefully comply with the simple and logical steps.
A functional outline, about 29 CFR Part 801 EPPA of 1988, is listed below. But official details may be downloaded through the link at the bottom of the page.
REGULATORY QUESTIONS FOR AN EMPLOYER TO ADDRESS
PRIOR TO A POLYGRAPH TEST
- IS THIS PERSON A PAST, PRESENT OR FUTURE EMPLOYEE OF MINE?
If there is an employer/employee relationship, then EPPA applies.
- DO I HAVE A POSTER DISPLAYED AT WORK?
Posted notice is required by EPPA for all covered employers.
- DO I HAVE A LOSS OR INJURY?
Can I document an ongoing investigation that identifies a specific economic loss or injury to companies business? The nature of the company’s loss may be either direct or indirect. Examples of direct loss are theft, embezzlement, misappropriation, industrial espionage or sabotage. Examples of indirect loss are check-kiting or money laundering. Accidental loss may not be covered unless there is some deliberate or malicious act.
- DO I HAVE A LEGITIMATE ONGOING INVESTIGATION? (a & b and c)
Does my company's actions qualify as an internal "Ongoing investigation" associated with a specific loss or injury?
- (a) DID THE SUSPECTED PERSON HAVE ACCESS?
Access to the targeted area, tools or objects related to the loss must be determined and fixed on the suspect.
- (b) IS THERE REASONABLE SUSPICION THAT A SPECIFIC PERSON DID THE DEED?
You as the employer must be able to verbalize reasonable suspicion which has been determined through the ongoing investigation.
- (c) HAVE I INCLUDED ALL POTENTIAL SUSPECTS ON THE LIST?
The company representative who is conducting the ongoing investigation must be careful to include, in the list of suspects, all of the employees that had timely access by way of their presence, knowledge, skill or other appropriate situation.
- Can you justify all of of your concerns in a document? You will have to be able to defend your position.
- IS THIS PERSON A PAST, PRESENT OR FUTURE EMPLOYEE OF MINE?
IF THE ANSWER IS YES TO ALL OF THE ABOVE THEN YOU MAY FORMALLY REQUEST THE PERSONNEL TO TAKE A TEST.
Specific official information can be found in the Federal Register dated March 4, 1991 entitled Part II Department of Labor Employment Standards Administration, Wage and Hour Division, 29 CFR Part 801, Application of the Final Rule.
Are the tests valid and can there be errors?
Extensive research has been conducted by:
- The Department of Defense Polygraph Institute,
- The American Polygraph Association, and
- Independent Universities.
The results are very assuring. Ideal conditions are used in these studies and the local examiners are encouraged to mimic the environments and practices used in the studies.
The American Polygraph Association believes that scientific evidence supports the high validity of polygraph examinations. Thus, such examinations have great probative value and utility for various uses in the criminal justice system. However, a valid examination requires a combination of a properly trained examiner, a polygraph instrument that records as a minimum cardiovascular, respiratory, and electrodermal activity, and the proper administration of an accepted testing procedure and scoring system.
The American Polygraph Association has a compendium of research studies available on the validity and reliability of polygraph testing. The 80 research projects listed, published since 1980, involved 6,380 polygraph examinations or sets of charts from examinations. Researchers conducted 12 studies of the validity of field examinations, following 2, 174 field examinations, providing an average accuracy of 98%. Researchers conducted 11 studies involving the reliability of independent analyses of 1,609 sets of charts from field examinations confirmed by independent evidence, providing an average accuracy of 92%. Researchers conducted 41 studies involving the accuracy of 1,787 laboratory simulations of polygraph examinations, producing an average accuracy of 80%. Researchers conducted 16 studies involving the reliability of independent analyses of 810 sets of charts from laboratory simulations producing an average accuracy of 81%. Tables list the authors and years of the research projects, which are identified fully in the References Cited. Surveys and novel methods of testing are also mentioned.
Variations In Conclusions
One of the problems in discussing accuracy figures and the differences between the statistics quoted by proponents and opponents of the polygraph technique is the way that the figures are calculated. At the risk of oversimplification, critics, who often don't understand polygraph testing, classify inconclusive test results as errors. In the real life setting an inconclusive result simply means that the examiner is unable to render a definite diagnosis. Examinee conditions like poor health, a lack of cooperation, emotional distress and the discomfort of the examination site, may cause variations. In such cases, a second examination is often conducted at a later date and maybe by a different examiner. Another factor not measured is is the attitude, skill and experience of the examiner.
To illustrate how the inclusion of inconclusive test results can distort accuracy figures, consider the following example: If 10 polygraph examinations are administered and the examiner is correct in 7 decisions, wrong in 1 and has 2 inconclusive test results, we calculate the accuracy rate as 87.5% (8 definitive results, 7 of which were correct.) Critics of the polygraph technique would calculate the accuracy rate in this example as 70%, (10 examinations with 7 correct decisions.) Since those who use polygraph testing do not consider inconclusive test results as negative, and do not hold them against the examinee, to consider them as errors is clearly misleading and certainly skews the figures.
Has the American Polygraph Association established ethics?
POLYGRAPH SCIENCE CENTER FOLLOWS APA STANDARDS
The goal of the American Polygraph Association is to provide mankind with a valid and reliable means to verify the truth of the matter asserted by:
- Serving the cause of truth with integrity, objectivity and fairness to all persons
- Encouraging and supporting research, training and education to benefit members of the Association as well as those who support its purpose and by providing a forum for the presentation and exchange of information derived from such research, training and education
- Establishing and enforcing standards for admission to membership and continued membership in the Association
- Governing the conduct of members of the Association by requiring adherence to a Code of Ethics and a set of Standards and Principles of Practice
STANDARDS AND PRINCIPLES OF PRACTICE
To achieve unity of purpose, to assure a clear understanding of obligations and to protect the welfare of the public, each member of the APA agrees to abide by the following Standards and Principles of Practice:
- A member shall respect the rights and dignity of all persons who are administered a polygraph examination.
- A member shall not conduct a polygraph examination without the examinee's knowledge and consent.
- A member shall not initiate an examination of any person unless using an instrument which records separate, permanent and simultaneous recordings of at least respiratory, cardiovascular, and electrodermal activity. This shall not preclude the simultaneous recording of additional physiological phenomenon. A member shall not knowingly conduct an examination using any instrument which at the time of the examination is not functioning properly as designed.
- A member shall not conduct an examination of any person whom the member believes to be physically or emotionally unsuitable for testing.
- A member shall only use those test techniques and question formats which are considered generally acceptable within the profession. This shall not preclude a member from conducting bona fide scientific research with novel techniques.
- Members shall not render a conclusive diagnosis on physiological records of insufficient quality or clarity. This could include, but not be limited to, excessively distorted data recordings believed to be manipulated by the subject or recordings with insufficient reactivity or amplitude that is generally accepted by the profession.
Opportunity To Explain
A member shall afford each person undergoing a polygraph examination a reasonable opportunity to explain physiological reactions to relevant questions evident on the polygraph charts.
- When the examinee is represented by an attorney who requests no post examination interview be conducted and the opinion only be furnished to the attorney.
- When the examination is being conducted by court order which stipulates no post-test interview is to be conducted.
- A member shall not provide any report or opinion regarding the medical or psychological condition of the examinee for which the member is not professionally qualified to make. This shall not preclude an examiner from describing the appearance or behavior of the examinee.
- A member shall not conduct an examination when there is reason to believe the examination is intended to circumvent or defy the law.
- No member shall solicit or accept fees, gratuities, or gifts which are intended to influence his or her opinion, decision or report.
- No member shall set any fee for polygraph services contingent upon the findings or results of such services; nor shall any member increase his or her initially agreed-upon fee as a direct result of his or her opinion or decision subsequent to a polygraph examination.
- A member shall not knowingly submit or permit their employees to submit a misleading or false polygraph examination report. Each polygraph report shall be a factual, impartial, and an objective account of the pertinent information developed during the examination and the examiner's professional conclusion, based on analysis of the collected polygraph data.
- No member shall make, publish, or cause to be published, any false or misleading statements or advertisements relating to this Association or the polygraph profession. No member shall make any false representation, of whatever nature, as to his or her membership status.
- Any person who has been convicted of a felony or any crime of moral turpitude shall be ineligible for membership in the APA.
- A member shall abide by decisions and recommendations adopted by the APA.
- To protect the privacy of each examinee, no member shall release information obtained during a polygraph examination to any unauthorized person. This shall not preclude the release of polygraph data for the purpose of quality control review.
- No member shall disclose to any person, except their supervising officer or person requesting the test, irrelevant information gained during the course of a polygraph examination which has no connection with the relevant issue and which may embarrass or tend to embarrass the examinee, except where disclosure is required by law.
- A member shall not include in any polygraph examination questions intended to inquire into or develop information on activities, affiliation or beliefs on religion, politics or race except where there is relevancy to a specific investigation, or the investigation involves terrorism or subversion and is demonstrably related to a job performance qualification.
What is the polygraph testing process?
We are licensed to conduct polygraph examinations anywhere in the State of Texas. We travel to the Caribbean by special arrangement. We belong to a professional network through which we can arrange testing in other States where a license is required. In special circumstances, we can provide a bilingual (Spanish) examiner. It is our purpose to fully understand your circumstance and to conduct a fair professional examination. We want it to be a satisfying experience.
There is a detailed explanation of the polygraph process in another section of this site. If you are considering an examination you should review that material. It will help you in making that decision.
Please click below for a link to that page.
What is the position of International Association of Chiefs of Police about polygraph?
A Joint Effort By American Polygraph Association And The International Association Of Chiefs Of Police
With assistance from the American Polygraph Association, the National Policy Center of the International Association of Chiefs of Police has published its version of a Model Policy on the Polygraph. This project was supported by Grant No. 93-DD-CX-K009 awarded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The Assistant Attorney General, Office of Justice Programs, coordinates the activities of the following program offices and bureaus: the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Institute of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, and the Office of Victims of Crime. Points of view or opinions in this document are those of the author and do not represent the official position or policies of the United States Department of Justice or the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
Every effort has been made by the IACP National Law Enforcement Policy Center staff and advisory board to ensure that this model policy incorporates the most current information and contemporary professional judgment on this issue. However, law enforcement administrators should be cautioned that no “model” policy can meet all the needs of any given law enforcement agency. Each law enforcement agency operates in a unique environment of federal court rulings, state laws, local ordinances, regulations, judicial and administrative decisions and collective bargaining agreements that must be considered. In addition, the formulation of specific agency policies must take into account local political and community perspectives and customs, prerogatives and demands; often divergent law enforcement strategies and philosophies; and the impact of varied agency resource capabilities, among other factors.
POLYGRAPH EXAMINATIONS - MODEL POLICY
I. Purpose. It is the purpose of this policy to provide investigative officers and others with general knowledge of, guidance and procedures for the use of polygraph examinations.
II. Policy. The polygraph examination is a valuable investigative aid as used in conjunction with, but not as a substitute for, a thorough investigation. The polygraph may be employed, consistent with this policy, to verify, corroborate or refute statements; obtain additional investigative leads; narrow or focus criminal investigations; serve to screen candidates for positions with this or other criminal justice agencies; and assist in the conduct of internal police investigations, among other authorized purposes.
III. Definitions. Polygraph: The polygraph is an instrument that records certain physiological changes in a person undergoing questioning in an effort to obtain truth or deception. A polygraph simultaneously records a minimum of respiratory activity, galvanic skin resistance or conductivity, and cardiovascular activity.
A. Requesting Polygraph Examinations.
1. Following approval by their immediate supervisor, employees of this agency may request a polygraph examination from this agency's authorized polygraphist.
2. Polygraph examinations may be authorized when consistent with state law and agency policy. Situations in which authorization may be requested and approved include, but: may not be limited to:
a. requests from the office of the prosecutor as part of an agreement with the defense attorney or for other investigative purposes;
b. an element of a background investigation of a candidate for a sworn or civilian position in this agency;
c. requests from other authorized criminal justice agencies;
d. attempts to Verify or reconcile statements of parents or guardians (e.g., in suspicious cases of missing or abused children) as well as witnesses or other individuals when alternative investigative means have been exhausted;
e. efforts to confirm or refute an allegation(s) that cannot be verified or disproved by other evidence;
f. efforts to establish probable cause to seek a search warrant; or g. as part of an administrative or criminal internal investigation of an officer of this agency or another criminal justice agency consistent with this policy (see item A.4.).
3. The polygraph should not be used to verify a victims allegation without sufficient grounds for suspecting that the victim has given false or misleading statements.
4. Requests for polygraph examinations from another law enforcement agency pursuant to an internal investigation must be in writing and be approved by this agency's chief executive or his designate.
5. Submission to a polygraph examination must be a voluntary action with the exception of employees of this agency formally directed to take an examination as part of an internal investigation. In all other cases, polygraph examinations shall not be administered without the subject's written approval, waiver or other instrument as required by law.
B. Preparing for Polygraph Administration
1. The requesting officer is responsible for providing the examiner with all pertinent information concerning the case and for reviewing, changing or elaborating on information as the examiner may deem necessary. This includes, but may not be limited to:
a. information obtained in the investigation that supports and justifies the use of the polygraph;
b. copies of crime/offense reports and investigative reports;
c. evidence available and withheld from the subject;
d. background information on the subject to be examined, to include criminal record and possible motivation;
e. any statements made by the subject, complainants and witnesses to include alibis; and
f. newspaper articles or other general information concerning the case.
2. If the subject is hearing impaired or does not speak English, the officer will help make arrangements for a sign language interpreter or translator as determined by the polygraph examiner.
3. Officers shall not interrogate a subject just before he/she is to take a polygraph.
4. In any Interrogation of a suspect who has agreed or who may reasonably be asked to agree to a polygraph, officers shall not pursue questions that may reveal information only the perpetrator could know. This includes, but is not limited to:
a. method of entry;
b. property taken;
c. weapons or type of force used to commit the crime;
d. evidence left at the scene;
e. clothing worn by the subject during the crime;
f. unusual acts of the suspect during the crime; or
g. location from which property was taken.
5. Officers shall not attempt to explain procedures that will be used in the examination but shall advise subjects that these will be explained fully by the examiner. Subjects may be advised of the following:
a. The examination is voluntary, unless otherwise provided by this policy in cases of internal affairs;
b. Results of the examination are not acceptable in a court of law unless all parties agree in advance,2 and
c. Results of the polygraph examination, taken alone, do not provide substantiation for a criminal charge.
6. Should the subject be late for or cancel the appointment, the requesting officer shall immediately notify the polygraph examiner.
7. If possible, the requesting officer shall report with the subject and any other authorized persons--such as attorneys, parents or legal guardians--to the examination location of the test. The polygraph examiner shall be solely responsible for authorizing any persons inside the examination or observation rooms.
C. Conducting Polygraph Examination
1. Only fully trained polygraphists or intern polygraphists under their direction are authorized to administer polygraph examinations.
2 This is the case in nearly all states. New Mexico is one exception. Agencies should consult legal counsel for clarification on this point.
3. The polygraph examiner shall make such inquiries of the subject's health, medical history and/or use of medications as necessary to determine his/her ability to take the examination. Polygraph examinations shall not be conducted on any person whom the examiner reasonably believes to be physically or emotionally unsuitable for testing. This may include but is not limited to persons with heart conditions, women who are pregnant and individuals taking certain types of medication that may interfere with test results. When in doubt, the examiner may seek guidance from medical or psychological professionals as authorized by this agency and/or request the examinee to obtain a medical certificate from an appropriate health care provider.
4. An examiner shall not conduct a polygraph examination upon a subject if it is felt for any reason that an unbiased examination cannot be given.
5. Where appropriate, the examiner shall read Miranda rights to the subject and explain the voluntary nature of the test. Where required, the examiner shall obtain a signed consent prior to administering the examination as well as a signed waiver of Miranda rights.
6. An examination shall cease immediately if requested by the subject.
7. Prior to the test, the examiner shall explain the polygraph procedure to the subject and prepare him/her for the examination.
8. The examiner shall be responsible for preparing all questions used in the examination. Prior to the examination, each test question shall be reviewed with the person being tested.
9. The examiner shall independently interpret the chart tracings and render an opinion on findings that includes, but is not limited to, one of the following conclusions:
a. No Deception Indicated
b. Deception Indicated
10. The polygraph examiner shall determine if a second polygraph examination is necessary and appropriate.
D. Pre-Employment Examinations
1. The polygraph examiner shall review all relevant applicant screening reports, applicant personal history summaries and any prior polygraph examination reports prepared by this agency before conducting the examination.
2. Pre-employment polygraph examinations shall be scheduled by authorized members of this agency's personnel authority according to established agency policy.
3. Polygraph examinations shall not be used as the sole determinant of suitability for employment.
4. Candidates shall be provided with a list of questions that may be used in the examination.
E. Equipment and Record Keeping
1. The polygraph examiner is responsible for the maintenance, safe-keeping and integrity of the polygraph equipment.
2. The polygraph examiner shall provide such summary activity or statistical reports as may be directed by the agency chief executive.
3. Unless otherwise provided in this policy or by state law, the polygraph examiner shall maintain copies of each polygraph report, together with polygraph charts and all allied papers, for a period of five years and indefinitely in capital offenses.
4. The results of all pre-employment examinations--including chart tracings, polygraph reports and related examination results--shall be maintained in a secure storage location, separately from criminal polygraph files. Duration of storage and stipulations for release of this information shall be governed by state law or the policy of this agency.
F. Examination Rooms
1. Tests and interviews shall be conducted in a clean, neat environment free of audible and visual distractions.
2. Certificates, diplomas and the like shall be displayed so as not to be in the sight of subjects during testing.
3. Examiners will be neat and well-groomed, and will dress in a manner consistent with standards of the professional business community.
a. Duty uniforms, badges and other emblems of authority shall not be worn. This does not include departmental identification cards, where required
b. Service weapons may be worn if required but should not be openly displayed.
1. Polygraph instruments used shall be of commercial manufactures and shall have no fewer than three functioning recording channels.
a. Calibration charts and/or maintenance logs shall be maintained at the instruments location or with case files.
b. Calibration checks of instruments should be conducted at least twice per month and whenever the instrument is moved to a different location.
H. Professional Development
a. Polygraphists are encouraged to participate in career development opportunities and are required to participate in professionally recognized annual in-service training.
LINK TO INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION CHIEFS OF POLICE
Which technique can I use to resolve my problem?
DETERMINING THE TRUTH
- DIRECT RESOLUTION FOCUS GROUPS
- SPECIFIC CASE KNOWLEDGE INVENTORIES
- STRUCTURED INTERVIEW SESSIONS
- POLYGRAPH EXAMINATIONS FOR TRUTH VERIFICATION
DESIGNING DEFENSIBLE SPACE SYSTEMS
- CREATE PHYSICAL SECURITY SOLUTIONS
- SUPPORT ARCHITECTS EQUIPMENT REVIEW
- CONDUCT SECURITY AWARENESS TRAINING
- REVIEW OR EDIT INTERNAL SECURITY PROCEDURES
SCREENING ELIGIBLE PERSONNEL AND VENDORS
- PERSONNEL EVALUATION SERVICES
- PERSONAL ATTITUDES INVENTORY
- CERTIFIED DRUG ABUSE TESTING BY HAIR OR URINE
- CONDUCT A CHARACTER AND REPUTATION EXAMINATION
- RESEARCH AND VERIFY OFFICIAL RECORDS
INSPECTING JOB ACTIVITIES COVERTLY OR OVERTLY
- SURVEY PERSONNEL ATTITUDES BY TESTING AND INTERVIEWS
- TECHNIQUES TO SURVEIL TROUBLED OPERATIONS FOR DOCUMENTATION
- EXAMINING UNDERCOVER AGENTS FOR AN INSIDE VIEW
- CONDUCT STRUCTURED INTERVIEWS FOR CLARIFICATION
EXAMINATION OF UNDESIRABLE ORGANIZATIONAL INCIDENTS
- CONFIRM APPARENT PHYSICAL EVIDENCE
- CONDUCT INTERVIEWS AND INTERROGATIONS
- COORDINATE THE USE OF OUTSIDE EXPERTS