PAR staff are arriving in San Francisco to kick off the start of the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) Annual Convention. If you are attending NASP, be sure you stop by the PAR booth to take a look at some of our new products, including the Reynolds Child Depression Scale™–2nd Edition (RCDS™-2) and Reynolds Child Depression Scale™–2nd Edition: Short Form (RCDS™-2:SF), the State-Trait Anger Expression Inventory–2™ Child and Adolescent (STAXI-2™ C/A), and the Emotional Disturbance Decision Tree™–Parent Form (EDDT™-PF).
Lying, it seems, is a very common part of human interaction. In their book 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology (2010), Scott Lilienfeld and his colleagues cite studies in which college students and others in the community admit to lying once or twice a day, on average. But how hard is it to tell if someone is lying? Don’t liars give off tell-tale signs of their deceptions? In fact, research reveals surprisingly few valid cues of deception, and Lilienfeld asserts that “most of us are dead wrong about bodily cues that give away liars” (p. 116).
If people are poor judges of truthfulness in others, does technology offer a better solution? Is the polygraph, or lie-detector test, an accurate means of detecting dishonesty? Most Americans (67% in one study) believe that lie-detector tests are “reliable” or “useful,” and films and television programs tend to corroborate this belief with story lines that portray polygraph testing as infallible.
The science, however, tells a different story. Lilienfeld and his colleagues explain that rather than truthfulness, the polygraph machine simply measures physiological activity—and then it is up to the examiner to ask questions and interpret the results. Factors such as blood pressure, respiration, and sweating can offer clues to lying because they are associated with how anxious the examinee is during the test; however, anxiousness is not the exclusive domain of lying, and “an honest examinee who tends to sweat a lot might mistakenly appear deceptive, whereas a deceptive examinee who tends to sweat very little may mistakenly appear truthful” (p. 118).
Another problem is confirmation bias, that is, the tendency for polygraph examiners to see what they expect to see. Examiners may have a preconceived notion of the examinee’s guilt based on outside information. Further, information on countermeasures, or techniques to “beat the test,” is widely available on the internet.
Estimates of the accuracy of one popular form of the polygraph test, the Comparison Question Test, put it at 85% for guilty individuals and 60% for innocent individuals. “That 40% of honest examinees appear deceptive provides exceedingly poor protection for innocent suspects,” suggests Lilienfeld (p. 120).
Because of their limited validity, polygraph tests are rarely admissible in court, and federal law prohibits most employers from administering lie detectors. Yet the public perception is that polygraph tests are accurate measures of truthfulness. Are people simply vulnerable to the images they see in television and movies, or is there something else that makes us want a machine that can detect the truth?
We would like to hear your opinion on this topic, so please post a comment and let’s start the conversation!
While the forefathers of psychology established many theories that became building blocks of what we study today, sometimes some of our highest-regarded researchers came up with some ideas that don’t necessarily fit with today’s view of the world of psychology. The following are some bits of “wisdom” from some familiar names.
“I wish that one would be persuaded that psychological experiments, especially those on the complex functions, are not improved [by large studies]; the statistical method gives only mediocre results; some recent examples demonstrate that. The American authors, who love to do things big, often publish experiments that have been conducted on hundreds and thousands of people; they instinctively obey the prejudice that the persuasiveness of a work is proportional to the number of observations. This is only an illusion.”
— Alfred Binet (1903). L’ Études expérimentale de l’intelligence (p. 299). Paris, France: Schleicher.
“Being in love with the one parent and hating the other are among the essential constituents of the stock of psychical impulses which is formed at that time and which is of such importance in determining the symptoms of the later neurosis… This discovery is confirmed by a legend that has come down to us from classical antiquity: a legend whose profound and universal power to move can only be understood if the hypothesis I have put forward in regard to the psychology of children has an equally universal validity. What I have in mind is the legend of King Oedipus and Sophocles’ drama which bears his name.”
— Sigmund Freud (1953). The Interpretation of Dreams. In J. Strachey (Ed.), The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (Vol. 4, pp. 260-261). Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books (Original work published 1900)
“Since my mother is the type that’s called schizophrenogenic in the literature—she’s the one who makes crazy people, crazy children—I was awfully curious to find out why I didn’t go insane.”
— Abraham Harold Maslow (2001). In Colin Wilson, New Pathways in Psychology: Maslow and the Post-Freudian Revolution (pp. 155-156). Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books (Original work published in 1972)
What do you think is psychology’s funniest or most interesting misstep?