Polygraph examiners test psychopaths all the time. Psychopaths make up a large segment of the criminal population (including white-collar criminals). Many of the personality traits of a psychopath lead some people to believe that they can “beat” a polygraph test at will. Psychopaths are pathological liars, they don’t have any remorse or guilt for their crimes or empathy for their victims, and they don’t accept responsibility for their own actions. They’re not particularly concerned about the bad things that they do, especially when those bad things bring them money or power.
How do we know that psychopaths can’t beat a polygraph test? We do a little scientific research. One of the handy things about research is that it cuts through theoretical arguments and gets down to the essential basic question which, in this case, is “Can psychopaths pass a polygraph test when they’re lying?”
The answer to that question is a resounding “No”. Research scientists have published the results of experiments in journals such as Psychophysiology, The Journal of Applied Psychology, and The Journal of Research In Personality. In all of these studies, we find that psychopaths and others with antisocial personalities are detected in their lies at the same rate as everybody else. In fact, some of the physiological reactions of psychopaths are actually stronger than other people when taking a polygraph test.
So, how do we explain this counterintuitive reality? Psychopaths may be pathological liars, but they have the same fear of detection and its consequences as anybody else. The reactivity of our autonomic nervous system is so strong that it simply can’t be overridden, even by somebody with no conscience.