The ‘Psychology’ of Polygraph’: Engendering Differential Salience - Concerns and Caveats

Friedo Herbig (Department of Criminology & Secruity Science, University of South Africa (Unisa), Lynnwood Ridge, USA.)

Article ID: 1465



The ‘success’ of a polygraph examination is predicated on the establishment of differential or emotional salience (a ‘psychological set’) with an examinee. This, according to polygraph proponents, guarantees that an examinee will respond appropriately during the administration of the in-test (questioning) phase of the polygraph examination. However, polygraph procedure, as prescribed by its governing body, the American Polygraph Association (APA), is a static clinical Westernised process that does not make any provision for human multiplicity (culture/ethnicity, idiosyncrasies, level of education, language proficiency, ideologies, and so forth). Identical (one size fits all) test procedures are applied across the board – a highly controversial methodology. This article, instead of rigidly focusing on validity and reliability issues per se, explores the degree to which certain intentional and unintentional human behaviour modification strategies have the potential to counterbalance claimed polygraph rectitude from a metaphysical and discursive standpoint. The article exposes concerns (potential flaws) relating to polygraph theory in the context of the ‘psychological set’ and is intended to serve as a caveat regarding the unmitigated use thereof. 


Polygraph;psychological set;emotional salience;behaviour modification;veracity;arousal;fear of detection of deception

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