“The polygraph is not a test, it’s an intense interrogation and the only part the PG plays is to frighten a person into making a confession” – Doug Williams, former Oklahoma City police polygrapher who now advocates against the polygraph.
Most registered citizens upon entering parole are required to take periodic polygraphs. The test begins long before one is hooked up to the PG machine. First you must fill out a huge questionnaire, up to 60 pages, answering hundreds of questions about past sexual behavior and current daily activities. Only a newborn babe would be pure enough not to feel uneasy about answering some of these questions, for instance, “have you ever lied to anyone or your parole officer?” This part of the test begins the process of building fear, apprehension, and intimidation.
Then there is the long wait before the PG is administered. During this period the PO reminds you that the severity of the conditions of your supervision depend on the polygraph results. More fear, nervousness, and intimidation. You bring your anxiety before your support group. They grow suspicious because you are anxious. “What are you hiding they ask?” “Is there anything you want to tell me,” your spouse or significant other, noting your anxiety, asks you.
Of course there is support too. Some guy says he knows how to beat the PG, but tightening your sphincter muscles when a certain question is asked seems like something that would work for him but not you. The best advice comes from people who tell you things like, ‘relax’, breath, don’t look worried (i.e. guilty), and think of pleasant things while answering the questions. Don’t volunteer any information before the test is administered.
Then the test is administered and you are sat down on a hard wooden chair which cuts into your circulation and makes you want to fidget. You are told not to do that and your anxiety grows because some of your movements are involuntary. Your breathing changes and the test administrator wants to know why you have changed your breathing. More anxiety. The questions are asked. “Have you ever lied to your PO?” You think, if I say no it will register bullshit. Should I say yes? In your confusion you blurt out, “no!” and lose all hope. Little did you know that no was the right answer no matter what. You can always claim you answered no because you couldn’t think of a circumstance where you lied but if you answered yes then you must have had a circumstance in mind.
The test is not over. You passed most everything but two questions came out vague and the PO and the counselors in your state imposed treatment want to know why. Your answers come out as guarded and now you think you are not trusted.
I’ll stop the story here but it’s easy to see that the PG is a tool designed to breakdown the registered citizen in order to make them more vulnerable to making some confession. And indeed, some people say things to polygraphers which are used against them and often the information itself is not that serious and sometimes the confession itself is false having been induced by overwhelming anxiety.
For a funny but poignant expose see Penn and Tellers hilarious takeoff on the polygraph.