Polygraph vs Microexpressions

Topics: Polygraph, Aldrich Ames, Paul Ekman Pages: 12 (3417 words) Published: April 19, 2014

Can microexpressions be used to detect lies more accurately than the leading commercial lie detector – a polygraph?

Aldrich Hazen Ames, a 31-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on espionage charges, on February 24, 1994. Ames had been spying for the Russians since 1985, selling classified information about CIA and the United States Intelligence (FBI Case Files). According to a letter from Ames to the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), Ames beat the polygraph examination, not once - but twice, while he was spying for the Russians (“A letter from Aldrich Ames”). In his letter, Ames further goes on to call the polygraph, a “Pseudoscience” and claims that reliance on polygraph for lie detection has “gotten us into a lot of trouble”. Polygraph is the leading commercial ‘lie detector’ in the market. It is being used extensively throughout the world. According to North Central State College Psychology glossary, a polygraph can be defined as, “An electronic device (often called a lie detector) that senses and records changes in several physiological indices including blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, and galvanic skin response.” And since the invention of polygraph by Leonarde Keeler in 1921 (Polygraph Museum), there have been many such cases where criminals have successfully managed to fool a polygraph. Moreover, further research reveals that an equal number of cases can be found where innocents have been convicted due to inaccurate polygraph results. Evidently, the world needs a better lie detection system, which can put an end to such unfortunate cases. Latest research by some of the world’s leading psychologists suggests that ‘microexpressions’ can be used to detect lies to a higher level of accuracy. Dr. Paul Ekman Ph.D., an expert in clinical psychology and is considered one of the 100 most eminent psychologists of 20th century, has done some of the most extensive research on microexpressions for the past 20 years (The hundred most eminent psychologists of 20th century). According to Ekman, “microexpressions are full-face emotional expressions that are compressed in time, lasting only a fraction of their usual duration, so quick they are usually not seen” (Telling Lies 129). Though the debate is still on amongst the experts as to which technique is the better one, the research seem to suggest that the technique of microexpressions has the potential to detect lies more accurately than the leading commercial lie detector - a polygraph.

Although critics claim that lie detection using microexpressions is highly impractical since facial expressions of emotions are bound by the local cultures and are thus unfathomable for even the most astute expert, it is more prudent that lie detection be carried out using microexpressions instead of the leading commercial lie detector - a polygraph, because, the former is almost foolproof, can be used flexibly as per the case requirements, and most importantly, targets the cause of lying rather than just identifying the lie itself.

One of the strongest claims made by the critics is that lie detection using microexpressions is highly impractical as it is restricted and affected by the local culture of a particular location. Critics claim that even an expert won’t be able to identify every possible facial expression of emotion, and thus the technique of microexpressions cannot be used worldwide. The argument does seem very logical, and the question then arises is that are facial expressions of emotions universal? About 150 years ago, Charles Robert Darwin wrote:

“Facial expressions of emotions are universal, not learned differently in each culture; that they are biologically determined, the product of man’s evolution” (The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals 8-9).

Since Darwin’s time, many psychologists and researchers have attempted to test Darwin’s theory of universality and to...
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