Did your employer request you take a polygraph exam? When employees have something to hide from the examiner and undergo the exam process, many research countermeasures to use in the test.
A countermeasure describes a method or technique used during the polygraph test to change their physiological response to the examiner’s questions, especially when they have to lie. The countermeasure supposedly throws off the polygraph machine’s ability to detect deception, helping them pass the test.
There are dozens of online forums discussing countermeasures. They unpack everything from biting your cheek to clenching your buttocks or using drugs to avoid being caught for their dishonesty. Do countermeasures work? Is it worth trying them out in a polygraph exam?
Let’s discuss everything you need to know about popular and obscure countermeasures and if they produce the expected results.
DISCLAIMER: If you’re scheduled for a polygraph and looking for active ways to beat the test, you might want to avoid this post and discontinue your research into the topic. There is a high likelihood your curiosity could end up causing you to fail your polygraph exam.
Everyone else is welcome to read through this post to learn more about the polygraph exam and the use of countermeasures in the process.
What is a Polygraph Test, and How Does it Work?
The polygraph exam, known colloquially as a “lie detector test,’ is a popular way for employers in the private and public sectors to screen new candidates and test their employees in the event of instances of theft or breach of contract.
The polygraph test involves the examinee arriving at the testing site and meeting the examiner. The polygraph examiner initiates the examinee into the process, answering questions they have on the polygraph process to put their mind at ease.
After the examinee is confident they’re calm and ready to take the lie detector test, the examiner links them up to the polygraph machine. They attach instrumentation to the examinee’s body. These instruments include two corrugated rubber tubes placed across the examinee’s chest and abdomen to detect changes in the heart and respiratory rate.
They’ll slip them into a blood pressure cuff to monitor changes in blood pressure and attach sensors to the fingers to measure changes in electrical activity in the skin and sweat gland perspiration. Some polygraph exams also involve the examinee sitting on a motion-sensing pad to detect movement.
The examiner links these instruments to a control unit that feeds the physiological changes in the examinee to a software program. The computer reads this feedback, displaying it as charts on the examiner’s laptop screen.
When the employee is ready to take the test, the examiner starts by asking them questions requiring yes-or-no answers. During the session, the examiner sits behind or to the side of the examinee, and the employee stares at a spot on the wall, making as little movement as possible.
Suppose the examiner comes across a question where they feel the employee is being “deceptive” (industry jargon for lying) in their answer. In that case, they repeat the question, looking intently at the physiological feedback interpreted by the software on their screen.
The examiner also records the polygraph session, and they’ll review this footage after returning to their office later in the day. After determining the outcome of the exam, the examiner contacts the employer with the results of their findings.
The Science Behind Deception Detection – Understanding the Fight-or-Flight Response
So, how does a polygraph machine detect deception in the examinee? The polygraph works by interpreting the body’s reaction to the questions asked by the examiner. When we lie under pressure, the stress of the situation coupled with our need to lie activates the “fight-or-flight” response triggered by the central nervous system (CNS).
The CNS consists of the “sympathetic “nervous system (SNS) and the “parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS). Regarding the polygraph and the fight-or-flight response, the SNS is of interest to us in this case. The SNS is responsible for managing the body’s fear response, pushing us into fight-or-flight mode when we feel threatened.
When we enter a fight-or-flight state, our blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration increase. The skin starts to produce sweat to allow us to slip out of an attacker’s grip, and the electrical current running through the skin changes, causing things like goosebumps to appear and the hair on the back of our neck to stand up.
The polygraph instrumentation notices these changes, providing feedback to the examiner. We’ll only enter a flight-or-fight state when we’re lying. Otherwise, these changes don’t occur and remain at a baseline.
There’s plenty of misinformation on the internet stating that polygraphs are inaccurate at detecting deception. However, that’s not the case. Most of this information comes from the 1970s and 1980s, before polygraph machines were integrated with computerized technology.
While it’s true that polygraph machines from the 70s, 80s, and 90s are somewhat inaccurate, the introduction of software changed the game. Today’s polygraphs use sophisticated software, AI, and machine learning algorithms, making them highly accurate. According to experts, the modern polygraph is up to 97% accurate at detecting deception in examinees.
Understanding the Purpose of Polygraph Countermeasures
So, what is a “countermeasure,” and how does it apply to polygraph testing? A countermeasure is a technique or method used to evade deception detection during a polygraph exam. In the early days of polygraph technology, some individuals discovered they could get away with lying by implementing countermeasures during the testing procedure.
By implementing a countermeasure, the examinees could derail the polygraph’s ability to detect deception by interfering with the body’s ability to notice the fight-or-flight response or interfere with the polygraph’s ability to see physiological changes.
As a result, the examiner would not notice these changes to the instrumentation and machine results. Or the machine would produce a pattern that didn’t appear like deception. So, the examinee would pass the test, fooling the examiner, the device, and their employer or the authority requiring them to take the test.
The Impact of Countermeasures on Polygraph Test Accuracy
In the early days of polygraph technology, before the advent of software, countermeasures significantly affected the outcome of test results. So much so that information surrounding the use of polygraph countermeasures spread through society at a rapid rate.
Countermeasures provided a means for criminals and employees to escape the polygraph exam unhinged by its results, even if they were being deceptive. However, the efficacy of countermeasures declined in the wake of the invention of polygraph software.
Today’s advanced polygraph systems can detect the use of countermeasures by the examinee. The use of a countermeasure changes the examinee’s physiological baseline response, and the software picks up these changes.
As a result, the examiner will act on this data, asking the examinee if they’re using countermeasures to throw off the polygraph machine and escape deception detection. Compared to the mechanical and electrical systems of the past, modern software polygraph systems have a high degree of accuracy in detecting deception and the use of countermeasures.
Common Countermeasures Used in Lie Detector Tests
So, what are examples of common countermeasures used by examinees in polygraph testing procedures? The use and types of countermeasures used in the polygraph exam are now well understood by examiners and industry professionals.
There are several studies written by polygraph authorities discussing countermeasures. These reports classify countermeasures into three basic categories.
Specific Point Countermeasures
Specific point countermeasures discuss those techniques employed by the examinee during the test. They implement these measures to disrupt their physiological or emotional response to the questions asked at the moment during the exam.
Specific point countermeasures have the ability to change what the examinee is thinking at the time, adjusting the body’s response to these questions through the regulation of the fight-or-flight response. These countermeasures get the name “specific” because the examinee introduces them at a specific point in the exam and not throughout the duration of the lie detector test.
Spontaneous countermeasures used during the polygraph test occur when the examinee uses them at unrelated sections of the exam. They don’t wait to deploy them when asked a specific question; they use them throughout the process to throw off the baseline reading of the polygraph device.
Spontaneous countermeasures aim to prevent the polygraph device from noticing their reaction to questions where they have to lie. As a result, they assume the polygraph can’t detect when they are lying and when they tell the truth.
Information countermeasures describe those used before the exam to gain an understanding of the polygraph process and how to cheat the exam. For instance, the act of reading up about polygraph countermeasures with the intent to use these countermeasures in the exam is an example of this type.
The examinee actively researches methods to beat the exam before taking the test to learn techniques that help them receive a favorable outcome. For this reason, it’s okay to research the polygraph exam before the test, but it’s not okay to look up ways to cheat it.
Some Examples of common countermeasures include the following
There are dozens of countermeasures in each category. However, some gained widespread use and knowledge during the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. In fact, you may have heard about some of these countermeasures already through interactions with other people.
Tacks in Shoes
Some examinees will place a thumbtack in the front of their shoe and press on it during the test when they have to lie. The idea behind it is that the pain response interferes with the polygraph’s ability to detect changes in the skin’s electrical frequencies when they lie.
Squeezing the Buttocks
Another commonly known countermeasure, squeezing the buttocks when answering the examiner’s question, distracts the mind and muscular system from the effects of the fight-or-flight response. As a result, the polygraph machine has difficulty determining if the examinee is deceptive in their answers. As a result of this countermeasure, polygraph companies developed motion sensor pads the examinee sits on during the test to monitor movement.
Biting the Tongue
Biting the tongue or the inside of the cheek is a countermeasure designed to produce the same effect as the thumbtack and squeeze the buttocks when answering the examiner’s questions. The pain response disrupts the feedback to the polygraph machine, helping the examiner avoid detection of their deception.
Curling the Toes
Curling the toes is another old-school countermeasure similar to squeezing the buttocks. The changes in the skin’s electrical response and ability to distract the mind affect the readout on the polygraph.
Xanax and Beta-Blockers
While the above countermeasures are all well-known before the era of software polygraph technology, the recent countermeasure of using drugs like Xanax (benzodiazepine) and beta-blockers is something new. These anti-anxiety drugs interfere with the response of the nervous system to fear.
However, the examiner can notice the physiological feedback on their screen, and they’ll know if the examinee is using these drugs during the test to evade deception. Unless you have a script for these medications, you’re in trouble if they ask you if you use this countermeasure during the exam.
What Happens If the Examiner Detects Me Using a Countermeasure?
If the examiner suspects you of using a countermeasure during the exam, they’ll ask you about it and press the matter. If they discover you using a countermeasure, it’s an immediate exam failure. Using a countermeasure during a polygraph exam shows you have something to hide and intentionally want to avoid deception detection.
Can I Get in Trouble If I use Breathing techniques and Meditation before the Polygraph Exam?
No, you can’t get in trouble for using breathing techniques and meditation before you enter the exam room. In fact, examiners recommend you to do so. These techniques lower stress in the body, reducing anxiety and limiting activation of the fight-or-flight response.
As a result, you step into the exam room feeling calm instead of on edge. This makes everything easier for the examinee and the examiner. You need less initiation from the examiner before you start the test, and your answers are interpreted accurately by the polygraph software.