Will a Polygraph Examiner Detect Use of Countermeasures in a Lie Detector Test?
Are you searching for methods to beat a lie detector test? If so, we have bad news for you, most of them don’t work, and you’re setting yourself up for failure. Just the simple act of reading an article or internet message board discussing the use of countermeasures in an exam can cause you to fail the polygraph.
So, if you have a lie detector test, stop reading this now to avoid failing your exam. However, if you have a morbid curiosity about polygraphs and how to beat them, don’t say we didn’t warn you; we explain why later in this post.
What is a Polygraph Countermeasure?
Countermeasures are a term in polygraphy describing methods used to try and beat the polygraph exam. When we start the lie detector test, the examiner asks us questions relating to the test parameters.
These questions might include examples like “have you used illegal drugs in the last 18 months?” If you have used these drugs and you’re guilty of the transgression, you can tell the truth or lie. If you choose to lie, your body goes into a “fight-or-flight” mode designed to protect you from what it perceives as a threat.
This fight-or-flight response is part of the autonomous nervous system, specifically the sympathetic nervous system. It’s a primal part of your biological makeup that you can’t control. For example, if you’ve ever woken up in the night and felt scared there’s someone in the room, that fear response is the fight-or-flight activated by the sympathetic nervous system.
Essentially, it’s a part of you telling yourself there’s something to fear in the room, and you should either stand your ground and fight it or run away. When we lie, we also activate the fight-or-flight mode. We understand that there’s a threat of losing our career if the examiner finds out about our behavior, and we feel we have to lie to protect ourselves.
Unfortunately, the polygraph machine detects the physiological changes initiated by the fight-or-flight response, interpreting them as a sign you’re being deceptive with your answer. A countermeasure is a method or technique designed to interfere with the fight-or-flight response, supposedly fooling the device and the examiner’s interpretation of results.
There are dozens of countermeasures discussed in internet message boards and websites. While they have a specific classification, we’ll boil them down to three types to keep this post less technical than it needs to be.
Physical Polygraph Countermeasures
The physical type is the first type of countermeasure, and the most popular, especially in the older era of electoral and mechanical-based polygraph machines. A physical countermeasure involves you using a bodily function or device to interfere with the polygraph reading.
For instance, there used to be an old theory that curling your toes or biting your cheek when making your response stopped the lie detector from picking up that you’re lying. Some people even state that placing a thumbtack in the front of your shoe and stepping on it lightly when replying to the examiner allows you to fool them.
The reason for this impression is that initiating the pain response stops the activation of the fight-or-flight mode, allowing you to answer the question untruthfully without being detected. While that might have been the case for the older polygraph machines from the 1980s and 1990s, it doesn’t apply to modern devices.
The modern polygraph software will detect you using this type of countermeasure and report it to the examiner. The examiner will likely ask you if you’re using a countermeasure to try and fool the machine. Then you’ll have to lie again or admit to it and risk failing the test.
Drug-Based Polygraph Countermeasures
In the modern era of polygraph technology, it’s more common for examinees to use drug-based countermeasures over physical methods. This countermeasure includes using drugs like beta-blockers or Xanax during the test process.
The examinee will consume these drugs an hour or so before eth test to give them time to reach the bloodstream and produce effects. These drugs make you feel calm, and people assume that they help them overcome the fight-or-flight response, or at least subdue it.
However, that’s not the case. The examiner is a trained professional, and the polygraph software can point out physiological markers showing the examinee is using these drugs. Once again, they’ll ask you if you used countermeasures before the exam, and you’ll have to tell the truth or lie, risking immediate exam failure.
The only time it’s okay to use drug-based countermeasures in the polygraph exam is if you have a prescription for the medication. If not, technically, it counts as you using illegal drugs, and there are severe repercussions for doing so in a polygraph exam.
The third form of countermeasure is the information-based type. This countermeasure involves you researching methods to beat the polygraph exam in the days leading up to the test. It includes articles like this discussing countermeasures, which is why we told you not to read it—feeling a bit silly now, right?
During your lie detector test, the examiner might ask you, ” Have you looked up any resources regarding how to beat a polygraph exam? Once again, you’ll have to lie or tell the truth, and the examiner will catch you.
However, it’s important to note that researching the polygraph exam itself is not a countermeasure. In fact, the examiner will encourage you to do so before taking the test. So, reading up about the polygraph, how it works, and questions to ask the examiner is a good move.
Like anything in life, the more we understand something, the less afraid we become of it. For instance, when you know the examiner isn’t going to ask you anything about your personal life, and you know the kinds of questions they ask, you might feel less nervous on test day.
Why Do People Use Countermeasures in Polygraph Exams?
There’s only one reason people use countermeasures in polygraph exams – to try and hide something or avoid telling the truth to the examiner. For instance, they might have committed the crime the examiner is questioning them about. Or, they might have past behavior that might make them look bad to the examiner and don’t want them to know about it.
For instance, you might smoke marijuana at home in the evening to relax. You don’t smoke it on the job and never show up at work intoxicated.
However, you don’t want your boss to know about your habit, so you decide to lie and say “no” when the examiner asks if you use illegal drugs.
The reality is that the examiner and your boss won’t care about your weed-smoking habit. What you do on your time is your business. They do care that you’re willing to lie about it. If you’re willing to act deceptively, it means that you might be responsible for whatever they’re questioning you about, and you’ll fail the polygraph.
However, if you answered the question honestly and said “yes,” the polygraph examiner will ask you what drugs you do and when you last did them. You’ll tell them your story, and they’ll ask you again, “now that we have that out of the way, do you use any other illegal drugs?” You reply with no, and the polygraph won’t pick up any deceptive activity, resulting in you passing the exam.
Advances in Polygraph Countermeasure Detection
There was a time when people could get away with using countermeasures in polygraph exams – to an extent. The “Keeler” polygraph was the benchmark for polygraph technology from the 1930s to the 1990s. It was an electro-mechanical device you’ve probably seen in movies and TV.
Supposedly, countermeasures sometimes work if the examinee is dealing with an inexperienced examiner and believes they were telling the truth or doing nothing wrong. However, this changed with the introduction of software and computer systems to the polygraph industry.
These devices took the polygraph process from 60% to 70% accuracy to accuracy rates as high as 97%. The sensitivity of the software and a highly trained examiner makes it near impossible to get away with using countermeasures.
Is there Any Way to Beat the Polygraph Machine?
You can only beat a polygraph if you’re a pathological liar or a psychopath. These individuals experience changes in the brain’s frontal area, allowing them to believe their lies and not experience empathy.
As a result, they have a different reaction to lying and don’t feel the fight-or-flight response when doing so. However, only 2% to 3% of Americans fall into this category, so chances are you’re not a psychopath or pathological liar, and the polygraph device will pick up your deception.
The Role of Polygraph Examiner’s Training and Experience in Detecting Countermeasures
While many examinees focus on beating the machine in a polygraph test, most of them never consider they’ll have to get around the examiner as well. The polygraph examiner is a trained professional in the field of deception detection. They spend around six to seven years studying their craft and following experienced polygraph examiners before they get the chance to conduct a test themselves.
The polygraph examiner meets with up to five people daily, five days a week, throughout their careers. So, if you’re dealing with an experienced polygraph examiner, they might have already conducted over a thousand exams.
The examiner meets people from all walks of life, and they understand how to detect deception in anyone. Not only do they have plenty of experience in reading the software during the test, but they also have expertise in reading body language, micro-expressions, gestures, and movements.
During the exam, the polygraph examiner looks at their laptop screen, analyzing the software’s response to the examinee’s physiological reactions. However, if they think you’re being deceptive, they’ll review a recording of your session later at their office.
They look at the tape and your body language for signs of deception. The talented examiner will certainly figure out If you’re acting deceptively.
Tips for Achieving Accurate Results in a Polygraph Exam without Countermeasures
The chances are, if you’re reading this post, you’re not trying to hide anything from the examiner or the polygraph machine. You probably feel nervous about taking the test, and that’s normal. Most people don’t have anything to hide, they just feel stressed about doing something they know nothing about, and that’s okay.
If you want the best advice to limit the impact of the fight-or-flight response during the polygraph, we have a few tips for you.
The best thing to do on the day leading up to the exam and on the day of the lie detector test is to stick to our routine. Don’t do anything out of the ordinary. If you feel tired on test day, don’t drink that extra cup of coffee, it’s not going to do your nervous system any favors; it will just put you on edge and breed more anxiety.
If you’re reading this in bed because your mind is racing about your test tomorrow, stop reading now and go to YouTube.
Listen to a guiding breathwork meditation and try and get a good night’s sleep. The meditation will ramp down the sympathetic nervous system and activate the parasympathetic nervous system and its “rest and digest” effect. You’ll find it easier to get to sleep. Don’t use prescription sleep medication or supplements to get to sleep; they’ll make you groggy in the morning.
When you enter the test room, ask the examiner any questions you have to put your mind at ease. It’s your right to do so; the examiner will answer anything you want about the polygraph process. Remember, knowing is half the battle, and you’ll feel more at ease when the exam starts.
However, we have bad news for you if you are reading this because you have something to hide. You’re probably going to fail the polygraph. There’s no way around it, and swallowing Xanax won’t make a difference. Be honest, and you’ll have a better time with the experience.