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Article   |    
UNCONSCIOUS MOTIVATION AND THE POLYGRAPH TEST
H. B. DEARMAN; B. M. SMITH
Am J Psychiatry 1963;119:1017-1020.
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Assoc. Prof., Dept. of Neurology and Psychiatry, University of Virginia School of Medicine.

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Abstract

A case has been presented which illustrates some of the psychological, ethical, and possibly legal problems associated with the use of the polygraph examination (lie detector) in commercial establishments.The polygraph technique only provides measures of various autonomic responses. The stimuli that elicit these responses, the intervening variables (constitutional predisposition, past learning, conscious and unconscious motivation, etc.) and the interpretations made of the resulting graphs are highly complex and are inferences made from more or less incomplete data. In any event, these instruments do not identify lying per se. The interpretation of the polygraph record is based on inferences of varying levels of remoteness. Inference is subjective; hence, polygraph examiners can, and do, make different interpretations of the same record.It is our conclusion that the application of the polygraph technique as a lie detector is fraught with too many variables and sources of error for it to be used as it is currently being used in business and industry. Its use in criminal investigations and in other situations involving the commonweal (such as screening employees for sensitive government positions) should be carefully and continually scrutinized, lest we find that George Orwell's 1984 is upon us.

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