So, your employers called you in for a polygraph exam. There’s inventory missing, and the company decided to test the staff to see who stole it. Maybe someone on the team has a drug problem, or a criminal infiltrated the organization.

Whatever the reason for the disappearing inventory – you’re sweating bullets, and it’s not because you’re responsible for the problem.

Undergoing a lie detector test makes everyone feel nervous. It’s a natural reaction to feel off your game because it intrudes on your privacy. There’s nowhere to hide, and what if the polygraph examiner starts questioning you about your personal life?

The clock is ticking for the countdown to your exam. You find yourself wondering if it’s possible to cheat on the test. After all, you don’t want your boss to find out you enjoy a bottle of wine on the veranda every night. Or maybe the office will look down on you when they find out about your secret “furry” lifestyle on the weekends?

So, can you beat the lie detector test? Is it possible to fool the polygraph examiner and keep that furry lifestyle and wine problem a secret? This post unpacks everything you need to know about whether or not you can deceive a polygraph exam.

(Spoiler alert: Not really).


What the Professionals Have to Say

According to professional examiners with years of experience in the game, it’s hard to beat a polygraph. The reality is, when you’re strapped to a chair with corrugated tubes around your belly and chest, electrodes hooked up to your hands and fingers, and a blood pressure cuff on your arm – you’re dead in the water.

You sit there feeling like you’re in a science experiment, and there’s no way out now. Please, don’t let him ask you about the furry convention coming up this weekend or the chardonnay from last night. According to experts, it’s impossible to cheat the polygraph. Proponents of the tech say it has a 98% accuracy in picking up the physiological responses involved with deception, aka lying.

The good news? The polygraph examiner isn’t interested in the furry convention, and they don’t care about your chardonnay chilling in the fridge at home. The polygraph test covers a specific set of questions relating to the current problem.

Now, if you had a crystal meth addiction – that would be a problem.

The polygraph test starts with some innocent baseline questions to get an understanding of your physiological activities, like your pulse, respiratory rate, blood pressure, and skin and sweat gland activity. Some methods include a mat you sit on to measure muscle movement.


How Does the Polygraph Exam Work?

After asking you the control questions, the examiner gets into the meat and potatoes of the polygraph test. They run through a series of questions relating to the offense in question. So, for instance, they might ask the following questions.

  • Do you use or have you used illegal drugs like cocaine, crystal meth, or heroin?
  • Have you ever committed a crime?
  • Are you in debt to anyone, or do you have outstanding bills?

They run through the list of questions and look at your body’s response when you answer. The polygraph instrumentation, like the sensors, pads, and tubes, provides feedback to a software module on the examiner’s laptop.

They compare the physiological responses in your body when answering the questions to those in the control group they asked in the beginning. If there’s a significant variance, they will think you’re lying or being “deceptive,” as is the industry lingo.

If the examiner asks you a question where you’re hiding something, you’ll know you’re done right away. It’s like an electric shock runs through your body, and regardless of how good you think you are at managing your emotions, there’s no escaping the machine.

You see, when you’re strapped up and sitting in the chair, your body is on high alert. Your brain knows that that question about the wine and the Furry convention is coming, and subconsciously, it’s waiting for the examiner to bring it up.

The moment they do, your “sympathetic nervous system,” a part of the brain and central nervous system, jumps into action. The sympathetic nervous system controls the “fight-or-flight” response. That’s the internal defense mechanism our ancestors developed when Simba, the real Furry, was chasing them across the plains of Africa looking for a snack.

If you have the hubris to assume you’re going to control this response, think again. There’s nothing you can do to stop it. A great way to look at it is through the lens of Hollywood. In the movie “Glimmer Man,” starring Steven Seagal and Damon Waynes, Seagal plays the part of an ex-CIA spook who spent years in the Tibetan mountains with a bunch of monks learning spiritual stuff and martial arts.

When he joins the police department, they send him for a polygraph. During the interview, he divulges some pretty incredible stuff but comes up clean, passing the test. When Waynes asks a colleague if it’s possible Seagal cheated on the test, he says, “No. Not unless he has complete control over his emotions.”

Not to sidetrack too much, but that sidebar covers what we’re talking about here. You can’t control the sympathetic nervous system and the fight-or-flight response. Unless you’re Steven Seagal, it’s just impossible, and you probably don’t have the same pedigree as the 9th dan Aikido black belt/monk.

What’s likely to happen for you is that the examiner asks you the question, and immediately your senses heighten. Your pulse rate increases, your blood pressure increases, and you start sweating. The machine picks this activity up, sending it to the software program the examiner is staring at on their screen.

In short, you’re done. Fortunately, he didn’t bring up the furries and the wine, so you can leave the exam breathing easy. You’re not the huckleberry they’re looking for, and you proved it.


Are Polygraph Results Definitive? Or are they Ever Inaccurate?

While proponents of polygraph tech state it has a 98% accuracy, a subset of people believe the technology has flaws, providing accuracy levels between 60% to 70% – far off the 98% claimed by the polygraph fanboys.

So, what gives? Is the polygraph as accurate as it claims? After all, there must be a reason its results are inadmissible as evidence in court, right? Well, that’s not really the case. Polygraph results are admissible if they corroborate other evidence in the case, but they don’t count as standalone evidence proving innocence or guilt.

The reality is the polygraph isn’t infallible. There are a bunch of reasons why you could end up failing the test, even if someone else stole the inventory from work. According to sources, polygraphs are wrong around 10% to 15% of the time.

So, what causes you to fail a polygraph if you’re telling the truth? Let’s say you go home the day the boss tells you you’re undergoing the lie detector test tomorrow. You decide to forgo your glasses of chardonnay in a misguided attempt to convince yourself it will make a difference at the exam in the morning.

You spend the evening worrying about them discovering your secret life as a furry, and without the wine, you find you can’t get to sleep because your nervous system is so ramped up that it feels like you’re wide awake. Insomnia keeps you tossing and turning all night, and by the time the morning rolls around, you barely slept a wink.

You get up, shower, and skip breakfast because your stomach has butterflies floating around, and you feel queasy. Instead, you stop by Starbucks for another cup of coffee, something you don’t really do very often, but you think you need that four-shot espresso with foam all the way to the top today to maintain.

When your polygraph exam rolls around, you feel like you’re strung out on crystal meth or some drug. The lack of sleep has your mind doing backflips, and the caffeine from all the coffee makes it feel like your heart is beating out of your chest.

You enter the exam room, go through the induction, and start the test. When the examiner asks, “do you use any illegal drugs?” Your heart skips a beat as your tired and confused mind thinks he might know about the chardonnay.

That’s all it takes; he thinks you’re being deceptive because of the increase in heart rate, pulse, respiration, and your fumbling answer as you spurt out “no.” It’s over. You failed right then and there.


Trying to Cheat the Polygraph – What Happens if You Fail?

You failed your test because you needed to be more informed about the process. The boss was doing his best to keep everyone on edge, and it worked. But you did nothing wrong, so what gives? The problem was you went outside the routine and dwelled on the fear of the exam arriving.

The correct procedure before taking a test is to do everything the same way you always do things. You should have looked up the polygraph procedure online that night instead of sitting in front of the TV watching “Glimmer Man” and worrying about your impending doom.

There’s nothing wrong with looking up the specifics of the polygraph exam before your test – but there’s an issue with looking up how to cheat on the test. For instance, the examiner might ask, “did you look up any information about cheating on a polygraph test?” Then you’re done.

However, reviewing what to expect is not a problem, and a good examiner or employer will tell you to do exactly that. When you got home that night, you should have grabbed that bottle of chardonnay and had your usual three glasses. Why? Because it helps you wind down after a stressful day and lowers cortisol production by the endocrine system enough to help you get to sleep.

When you woke up in the morning, you should have had your usual cup of coffee and toast, and you should have avoided that stop at Starbucks for the espresso. All that did was pour more fuel on the fire of your nervous system, increasing stress and anxiety in your body and mind.

The thing is, you didn’t know what to expect at the time, and human beings do silly things when we face the fear of the unknown. Not that that helps – you still failed the exam, so now what?

In this situation we just covered, you’re not the thief, and your boss likely knows that. In fact, he probably knows who stole the inventory, and he’s using the polygraph as the definitive tool to confirm his suspicions before he fires Tom, the inventory manager, and pursues a legal case against him.

However, since you failed, he might think perhaps you were in on it. Maybe you gave him a key to the office or the alarm code so he could make a copy and sneak in at night. If that’s the case, your boss will likely ask you why you failed the test. He might also lean on the examiner’s expertise, who says your vital signs were through the roof, even during the control question phase of the exam.

So, worse comes to worst, he might tell you to do it over. You’ll get a few days to recover, and this time you can take the correct approach to the exam. First, you know what to expect (they aren’t asking about furries and wine), and second, you won’t make the same mistakes with your evening and morning habits.

You enter the exam room a week later and pass with flying colors. Tom’s not so lucky. The police arrested him because the polygraph examiner said he stood out like a sore thumb against the rest of the staff interviews.


Can You Best Polygraph Testing? – The Verdict

So, can you deceive a polygraph test? The answer is probably not. Unless you have complete control over your sympathetic nervous system, you can’t escape the physiological response created when someone asks you a question where you know you’re guilty.

Clenching your butt cheeks, standing on a thumb-tack in your shoe – none of that nonsense works. If you’re guilty, chances are the polygraph examiner will find out. Sure, you could be the one in a million that escapes the test unscathed if you’re guilty – but chances are you’re not the Glimmer Man.