The History of the Lie Detector Test


A lie detector measures physiological changes, like blood pressure and heartbeat, perspiration and respiration, as someone is asked questions. It’s been used in the investigation of countless crimes, but is it really accurate?

Almost a century ago William Marston devised the first method for detecting lies by measuring a person’s heart rate and blood pressure. However his findings were rejected by the federal court of appeals for being unscientific.

The idea

The lie detector test has become an icon in popular culture. From crime dramas to Hollywood comedies, the picture of a pen wildly gyrating on a chart is easily recognized. But despite their cultural prevalence, polygraphs remain controversial. Most psychologists agree that they are a scientifically unreliable method of detecting deception.

In the late nineteenth century, Italian criminologist Lombroso observed that people’s heart rate and breathing changed when they were lying under interrogation. He recorded these changes and concluded that lying is linked to fear.I recommend this website for more Octopus Referral.

In 1921, psychologist and lawyer William Marston (who also created the comic superhero Wonder Woman) developed an early version of a modern lie detector by using a blood pressure cuff to monitor a suspect’s heart rate and blood volume while asking them questions. It wasn’t until years later that John Augustus Larson added a third physiological channel—galvanic skin response—to Marston’s polygraph that the first real lie detector was born. It was still not reliable, however, and a number of medical conditions can interfere with a person’s responses.

The invention

For centuries, people have searched for an infallible lie detector. The 6,000-year quest began in Ancient China, where the Ancient Chinese believed that lying caused fear and a rise in the blood pressure. The earliest form of what we now call a lie detector was invented in 1914 by Harvard psychology graduate William Marston. He created a device that measured the subject’s systolic blood pressure and heart rate to see if they were anxious.

In the 1920s, a physiology student named John Larson invented the modern polygraph machine. His device noted the changes in a person’s pulse rate, respiration and blood pressure during interrogation.

Leonarde Keeler further improved this machine in 1925 by using a quantified chart analysis instead of the smoke paper. The polygraph is now used by police officers, lawyers, judges and medical specialists to determine whether someone is telling the truth. Wired quips that Wonder Woman would be in demand if she had such a device to use in her quest for justice.

The test

In 1921, lawyer, psychologist and inventor William Marston (who also created the comic superhero Wonder Woman) invented the precursor to modern lie detector tests. He claimed his test showed a suspect was lying by measuring changes in breathing and blood pressure during questioning. Marston also based his test on the well-known human reaction to fear and stress. His tests were ineffective, however. A judge refused to allow his results as evidence claiming the test was not generally accepted by the scientific community at the time.

Marston’s next improvement was a machine that recorded three physiological channels (blood pressure, heart rate and perspiration) while questioning subjects about a crime. He adapted his machine from a military device developed during World War I by criminologist Lombroso. In 1925, Leonarde Keeler further improved the machine. Modern polygraphs use several physiological sensors to measure responses to a series of questions that are divided into “control” and “probable lie” categories.

The results

For more than a century, psychologists and police detectives have searched in vain for the technology that will instantly tell whether someone is telling the truth. But just as Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth can only be wielded on an honest person, the lie detector remains a scientifically disputed device that is used to screen employees by national security agencies and law enforcement departments.

In 1921, a cop and physiologist named John Larson invented the first actual lie detector machine, which recorded blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing. Keeler improved on Larson’s invention by adding a third physiological channel to measure perspiration, giving us the modern version of the polygraph test.

A skeptical report from the National Academy of Sciences concluded that “almost a century of research in scientific psychology and physiology provides little basis for the expectation that polygraph instruments could have extremely high accuracy rates.” Yet, despite the lack of confidence in the results, the device continues to be used in numerous applications.