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History of the Lie Detector or Polygraph Machine

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Polygraph

Lab Subject Being Tested on the Computerized Polygraph

Courtesy of City of San Diego Police Department
An earlier and less successful lie detector or polygraph machine was invented by James Mackenzie in 1902. However, the modern polygraph machine was invented by John Larson in 1921.

John Larson, a University of California medical student, invented the modern lie detector (polygraph) in 1921. Used in police interrogation and investigation since 1924, the lie detector is still controversial among psychologists, and is not always judicially acceptable. The name polygraph comes from the fact that the machine records several different body responses simultaneously as the individual is questioned.

The theory is that when a person lies, the lying causes a certain amount of stress that produces changes in several involuntary physiological reactions. A series of different sensors are attached to the body, and as the polygraph measures changes in breathing, blood pressure, pulse and perspiration, pens record the data on graph paper. During a lie detector test, the operator asks a series of control questions that set the pattern of how an individual responds when giving true and false answers. Then the actual questions are asked, mixed in with filler questions. The examination lasts about 2 hours, after which the expert interprets the data.

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