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Polygraph Testing Errors

False Readings - Polygraph test have proven to be accurate, but errors still do occur. There are a number of factors that contribute to false readings including not preparing the subject properly and not reading the polygraph charts correctly. A false positive occurs when the test reports a subject as being deceitful when in fact the person is being honest. A false negative occurs when a person is being deceitful, but the test reports the individual as being honest.

Errors can cause numerous problems for the person and the agency involved. Therefore, examiners use a variety of tools to reduce the instance of false responses and ensure an accurate reading of the results.

Procedures that protect the subject:

  • Assessing the subject emotional state
  • Considering the subject’s medical condition
  • Using specialized tests that address specific issues such as excessive responsiveness or nervousness
  • Asking control questions that determine the person’s capability for response
  • Analysis of case information
  • Pre-test interview
  • Review of questions
  • Quality control reviews

Things examiners can do to correct mistakes:

  • Reexamine the subject
  • Have the subject examined by another person
  • File a complaint with the Department of Labor or state licensing board
  • Request assistance from the American Polygraph Association

Prohibited Questions

There are certain questions examiners are prohibited by state law, the Employee Polygraph Protection Act, and the American Polygraph Association from asking during pre-employment or employment examinations. These are questions that pertain to the person’s religious or political beliefs, religious or political affiliations, opinions on racial matters, sexual preference or activities, or lawful affiliations with labor unions and organizations.

The questions asked should focus on only on things that pertain to the issue under investigation or the job such as theft from previous employers or false statements made on the application. Additionally, the examiner must review the questions with the subject, so there are no surprise or trick questions.

Where Do the Results Go?

Polygraph tests can only be given to authorized personnel. This includes the subject interviewed, the company or agency requesting the polygraph test, those required by law, and anyone the subject has given permission to. This requirement is regulated by state law and the standards set by the American Polygraph Association.