Applying Classical Conditioning Toward the Physiological Detection of Concealed Information: Beyond Native Responses

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Applying Classical Conditioning Toward the Physiological Detection of Concealed Information: Beyond Native Responses Derek C. Tucker 6/8/2005

Psychology today is predominately concerned with phenomena which occur, “on average,” given a particular set of circumstances. Technology, however, is constantly forced to look deeper into phenomena that occur, “on average,” in order to improve the reliability of an instrument for whatever task the technology is to be used. With instruments such as the polygraph, that are applied to assess psychological states of an individual for a specific stimulus, the most technically reliable instrument is functional limited by the accuracy of the underlying psychological constructs for predicting physiological outcomes not “on average,” but “this time.” While no psychological construct that I’m aware of reports 100% correlation with a specific physiological response, the next best thing is to be able to recognize when an event will likely be part of the average, so that one can modify the expectations for what might occur “this time”. This project investigates the potential of using classical conditioning to increase the reliability of “lie detectors” by using a paradigm that prevents people for whom the test will not work from undergoing critical (or relevant) question judgment (or classification). An issue with deception or lying, however, is that its definition is often subjective. It is imperative that the interrogator and the examinee both agree upon the interpretation of the stimuli used during the investigation. From the perspective of a fly, the Venus Fly Trap is behaving deceptively, though from the plant’s point of view, everything is as it should be. Thus, should a fly be equipped with a polygraph, if it were to ask, “are you a deceiver of flies,” or, “do you contain dangerous chemicals ” would be less effective than, “do you contain chemical X.” In our society, rather than awaiting natural species adaptation, specialization, and differentiation, the “problem” of deception has been countered by the advance of lie detection techniques. Interestingly, many of these approaches implicitly rely on principles of classical conditioning for the generation and evaluation of results. According to the Committee to Review the Scientific Evidence for the Polygraph (2003), the underlying principle of the polygraph’s function under most paradigms relies on a lifetime of having episodes of intentional deception paired with fear and anxiety. In the parlance of classical conditioning, the unconditioned stimulus would presumably be the fear and anxiety that occur when one is afraid of being caught, while the conditioned stimulus would be the act of lying, or concealing information (Iacono, 2000). The unconditioned and conditioned responses, however, would vary by the individual experience . The original polygraph exam assumed a conditioned fear response as indicated by an increase of blood pressure that occurs on average (Martson, 1938), but as noted in Iacono (2000, p. 775): “There is no unique physiological response associated with lying, and there is no known physical substrate underlying what these tests measure. In fact, it is not clear what psychological processes are tapped by the techniques employed in polygraphy – or even how important deception per se is to their outcome. Polygraph operators are taught that their procedures most likely depend on a subject’s fear of the consequences of being detected. However, little research has been directed at this issue; it remains possible that other psychological constructs, such as the guilt and anxiety associated with lying or belief that a test works, are important. Because the psychological underpinnings of applied polygraphy are so poorly understood, it should be no surprise that the physical substrate underlying these techniques has received virtually no attention beyond the level of identifying useful peripheral measures.”...
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