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A Different Kind of Polygraph

Blake McConnell and Timothy J. Weber have an article in the current FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin titled The Concealed Information Test: An Alternative to the Traditional Polygraph.

Instead of asking Professor Plum "Did you do it?" ask him "Was it done with the lead pipe? With the wrench? With the revolver?"  If only the perpetrator and the investigators know the answer, the theory goes, the perp's reaction to the right answer will differ from his reaction to the wrong answers in a way different from innocent people.  Follow this with "Was it done in the Conservatory?" and so forth, and you may build a compelling case.

Polygraph evidence is generally not admissible in court, although in United States v. Scheffer, 523 U.S. 303, 318 (1998) Justice Kennedy noted in a concurring opinion for himself and three others, "some later case might present a more compelling case for introduction of the testimony than this one does."

One problem with traditional polygraphs is that the worst liars are the best liars.  They can lie through their teeth all day long and never feel the twinge of guilt that is the basis of the physiological reaction to telling a lie.  McConnell and Weber note:

Many researchers have concluded that the [Concealed Information Test] is more appropriate for testing psychopathic offenders who demonstrate a lack of emotion associated with the defensive-type responses underlying [Comparison Question Test] theory. There may be an increase in orienting response--upon which the CIT is based--associated with psychopathy; therefore, psychopaths may be more suitable for CIT testing than others.
The Japanese have been doing this since the 1950s.  Sounds interesting.

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