Note: It seems I’ve slid into a few personal experience stories… I'll be back to normal soon...
Has anybody out there ever taken a polygraph test? I mean a real lie detector test for a criminal investigation? I have. Before all the statements of "Aaahhh, that explains a lot!" and "I knew it!"; it was a long time ago and I was not the guilty party.
When I was in college, I worked for a grocery store. It was a good experience for me and helped pay the bills of a young IT student.
Anyway, some cash came up missing from the office one of the nights I was on the clock. I remember it was over a grand, so it was considerable enough to be a felony.
The manager called all of us in that worked that night and offered a chance for the culprit to do the right thing. That person would be fired, BUT no charges would be filed. The crime had already been reported and I remember a police officer there, so I'm assuming they had agreed to it. Thinking back... most of us in that room were young; college age with a few high-school kids.
The guilty party decided no deal, so it was on to step two. The company had arranged for each of us to take a polygraph test over the next few days, we were given a sign-up sheet to pick the day/time of our test. To his credit, before handing the clipboard to us... the manager placed his name in the first available time-slot.
So, my date/time arrived, and I showed up to my appointment. I remember it being very professional, with the technician putting little clips on my fingers and an elastic band around my chest before explaining what was going to happen. He said he would ask me a few "control questions" up front and then get to questions concerning the theft... and off we went.
I'll be honest, I was nervous. Who really trusts these things? Who really knows anything about them?
I don't know if the questioning even lasted ten minutes. I do remember the final questions being "Did I steal the money?" and "Did I know who stole the money?"
I was actually surprised when it wrapped up and the technician simply stated point blank "OK, you passed." I guess I was expecting not to be told anything about the results at that time.
He was about to unhook me, then he paused... and said "If you've got a minute I want to show you something..."
I agreed, and he sat back down at the controls.
He said, "Pick a number between one and ten"; which I did.
He then proceeded to ask me sequentially if I picked 1...2...3... and when he got to my number he stopped and said... "That's it". There was no need to go any further. And, of course, he was right.
He then gave me some advice, saying, "Don't ever break the law. YOU are the worst liar I've ever seen. This machine is made for people like you." :)
Thinking back on that experience, I was told I could not beat such a test. BUT I must think one could train to beat it; and I have to think some could do it naturally; thus, the correct application of such tests being a tool, but not admissible in courts of law. Finally, I would also think that you could shop around for a company/technician who could give you the results (pass/fail) you want. Science and technology are wonderful, but both can just as easily be used to deceive as to illuminate.
Side Note: A young man (a senior in high-school at the time) was not told at the end of his test that he passed. He was confronted with the negative results of his polygraph and confessed. I do not remember the disposition of the criminal case. I just remember that it was a shame he was starting out his young life with such a disadvantage.