Since the beginning of polygraph testing, people have tried to “beat the polygraph” by using a variety of physical and mental techniques, called countermeasures. Although the idea of passing a polygraph test when one is actually lying is appealing to some people, research has shown that countermeasures are completely ineffective. In fact, two major research studies have demonstrated that reading about polygraph techniques and countermeasures is futile for someone hoping to beat the test (Rovner, 1986; Honts, C.R. & Alloway, W.R., 2007).
Several people who have websites claim to be able to teach a guilty person to use countermeasures that will enable him to fool a polygraph examiner into believing that he is innocent of the crime or activity for which he is being tested. Even if we overlook the fact that most of the people who own these websites are not polygraph examiners, the idea of fooling a trained and experienced examiner is ridiculous. These internet “experts” are telling their readers that a person who has never taken a polygraph test can quickly and easily learn more about polygraph techniques and psychophysiology than an examiner who has conducted thousands of tests. This is like telling someone that by reading a book about golf he can go out and beat Tiger Woods in his first match.
The reality of the situation is that the polygraph testing environment is new and foreign to most examinees. The novelty of that environment, along with the importance of the test results, will undoubtedly produce anxiety and apprehension in anyone. With that nervousness as a backdrop, the examinee must learn, understand, remember and flawlessly execute certain psychological and psychophysiological moves if he is to successfully fool the polygraph examiner:
● He must know everything the examiner knows.
● He must be prepared to respond appropriately to any technique that the examiner is using (there are several different techniques.)
● He must not reveal any damning information during an extensive pre-test interview.
● He must be able to produce a certain repeating pattern of physiological reactions several times in each question sequence, and replicate those reactions in each of three to five repetitions of the question sequence.
The absurdity of the situation is obvious. Beating a polygraph test is simply too complex an undertaking for anyone.
Now, it’s true that any person can be taught to produce physiological responses at will. For example, biting one’s tongue will induce small changes in blood pressure and heart rate. However, the abnormal physiological reactions of someone using countermeasures are much different from the natural responses of someone who is simply answering questions. A skilled and experienced polygraph examiner won’t be fooled by such childish games.
Louis Rovner, Ph.D.