What is a polygraph?
The term "polygraph" literally means "many writings." The name refers to the manner in which selected physiological activities are simultaneously recorded. Polygraph examiners my use conventional instruments, sometimes referred to analog instruments, or computerized instruments. It is important to understand what a polygraph examination entails. A polygraph will collect physiological data from at least three systems in the body.
Corrugated rubber tubes (or electronic sensors) placed over the examinee's chest and abdominal area will record respiratory activity. Two small metal plates or disposable adhesive electrodes, attached to the fingers, will record sweat gland activity, and a blood pressure cuff or similar device will record cardiovascular activity. Some instruments also monitor other activity. For example, motion sensors, which monitor general movements that might interfere with test data, are often used.
A typical polygraph examination will include a period referred to as a pre-test interview, a chart collection phase and a test data analysis phase. During the pre-test, the polygraph examiner will complete required paperwork and talk with the examinee about the test, answering any questions the examinee might have. It is during this phase that the examiner will discuss the test questions and familiarize the examinee with the testing procedure. During the chart collection phase the examiner will administer and collect a number of polygraph charts. The number of questions and the number of charts will vary, depending on the number of issues and technique employed. Following this, the examiner will analyze the charts and render an opinion as to the truthfulness of the examinee. The examiner, when appropriate, will offer the examinee an opportunity to explain physiological responses in relation to one or more questions presented during the test.
Who uses the polygraph?
The four sectors that use the polygraph include law enforcement agencies, the legal community, government agencies, and the private sector. They are further described as follows:
• Law Enforcement Agencies
- Federal law enforcement agencies, state law enforcement agencies, and local law enforcement agencies such as police and sheriff's departments.
• Legal Community- U.S. Attorney Offices, District Attorney Offices, Public Defender Offices, defense attorneys, Parole & Probation Departments.
- The court systems in cooperation with probation and parole officers and therapists to monitor convicted sex offenders.
- Attorneys in civil litigation.
• Government Agencies- Department of Defense Agencies
- Agencies in the Intelligence Community
• Private Sector- Companies and corporations under the restrictions and limitations of the Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988 (EPPA).