When researchers developed means for measuring visceral responses and discovered that these responses are associated with emotions, it was not long before the possibility of detecting lies was raised. The use of a polygraph to detect lying is based on the assumption that people will feel anxious or guilty when asked a question that has personal, emotional significance to past deeds. The polygraph tester measures and compares physiological responses to both control questions and relevant questions to infer lying. For example, if a person is suspected of murdering John Smith on May 16, the tester may ask the control question: "Have you ever hurt someone?" Because everyone has hurt someone at one time or another, and probably feels guilty about it, some level of emotional response will be registered in changes in heart rate and respiration. The relevant question is "Did you kill John Smith on May
16?" Supposedly, the innocent person will show a greater emotional response to the control question than the relevant question. The perpetrator of the crime should show a greater emotional response to the relevant question because of its extreme emotional significance.
The use of polygraph testing is surrounded by controversy. Although some liars can be detected, if a perpetrator does not feel guilty about the crime—or does not believe that the polygraph can measure lying—he or she will not show the expected response to the critical questions about the crime. In addition, research has shown that some innocent people will become so anxious when asked "relevant" questions that they are mistakenly viewed as guilty. The American Psychological Association has expressed grave concern over the validity of polygraph testing. The U.S. Congress has outlawed the use of preemployment testing to predict who might, for example, steal inventory. Despite the reservations of the American Psychological Association, however, security agencies and defense industries are allowed to use polygraph testing.
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