The Polygraph for Modern-Day Police Work

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In times of stressful or scary situations, humans tend to have a fight or flight response to whatever is happening to them and that response is exactly what polygraphs were invented to measure. The first recorded machine that is similar to the modern-day polygraph used by law enforcement agencies was invented in the late 19th century by Cesare Lombroso, an Italian criminal researcher. He created two types of devices: the plethysmograph and the hydrosphymograph which both measure the circulation of blood (Gibson, 2001). 

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Although Lombroso was one of the first to establish a scientific way to detect lies, American criminologist and psychiatrist John Larson is the one who gets the credit of inventing an actual polygraph machine in the early 1900’s (Gibson, 2001). According to Gibson (2001), “Larson certainly wanted to construct the idea that the body itself confesses, and this machine is able to trace and capture involuntary physiological responses to incriminating questions” (p. 66).

Not only did John Larson invent what we now know as the polygraph, he also conducted a lot of the research behind the machine and how to use it correctly. Leonarde Keeler worked alongside Larson and can be credited with the creation of the Relevant/Irrelevant Question Technique (one of the top techniques used in the early 1900s) and making the polygraph portable. Even though both Larson and Keeler worked on making the polygraph the best it could be, they did it for two completely different reasons. Larson wanted to use his machine on real cases for his department and making a real difference in the criminal justice field while Keeler was more interested in selling it for a profit (Synnott et al. 2015).

Keeler went on to patent his portable polygraph and founded a “polygraph school” where people who wanted to be able to conduct polygraphs could attend and get certified to do so. He passed away in 1949 and he is mostly known for being one of the only ones who saw the polygraph as something that could be used in many different disciplines. Along with Larson and Keeler, John Reid can be cited with coming up with more testing techniques and helping the polygraph become more well known. Reid came up with the CQT, which took the place of Keeler’s Relevant/Irrelevant Question Technique, and came up with his own polygraph school much like the researchers before him (Synnott et al. 2015).

The United States, Japan, Israel, and Canada are just some of the states that use the polygraph for modern-day police work and helping solve cases but the United States is one of the only countries that also uses them in the workplace (Gisbon, 2001). If you have ever applied for a job with the criminal justice field or worked for the military then you know that you tend to be subject to taking a polygraph just to ensure that what you are saying is truthful, or non-deceitful. Whether a polygraph is being used to fight crime and find out the truth about something or it is used to ensure that the best person possible is chosen for a job, it has been proven to be very helpful for many people. 

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