Scientific Validity of Polygraph Testing:
A Research Review and Evaluation

A Technical Memorandum
Washington, D. C.: U.S. Congress
Office of Technology Assessment
November 1983


This technical memorandum presents the results of the Office of Technology Assessmentís (OTA) review and assessment of the scientific evidence on the validity of polygraph testing. Conducted at the request of Rep. Jack Brooks, Chairman, House Committee on Government Operations, and Rep. Frank Horton, the Ranking Minority Member, the OTA memorandum is intended to assist the committee in its deliberations on proposed changes in polygraph use by the Federal Government.

As requested, OTA has limited this technical memorandum to issues directly related to the scientific validity of the polygraph. OTA did not consider utility, privacy, constitutional, and ethical issues, among others that have been raised in the debate over polygraph testing.

We first discuss the various types of polygraph testing procedures and ways in which the polygraph is used, and then summarize the judicial, legislative, and scientific controversy over polygraph testing validity. Next, we review and evaluate both prior reviews of the scientific research on polygraph validity and the individual research studies. Finally, we discuss the range of factors that may affect polygraph validity and the possibilities for future research, and present OTAíS conclusions about the scientific evidence for current and proposed Federal Government polygraph use. In preparing this memorandum, OTA has drawn on research information available from a wide variety of sources, including the major Federal Government polygraph users, the American Polygraph Association, various private polygraph practitioners, and polygraph researchers both in the United States, and abroad.

In addition to the members of the project advisory panel, this memorandum benefited from the consultation and review of a large number of persons in the Federal Government, universities, and the polygraph community. It is, however, solely the responsibility of OTA, not those who advised and assisted us in its preparation.

Polygraph Validity Advisory Panel

Edward S. Katkin, Chairman
Professor of Psychology, State University of New York at Buffalo

Joseph P. Buckley
John E. Reid & Associates

Robert Edelberg
Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology
UMDNJ-Rutgers Medical School

Frank Horvath
Associate Professor
School of Criminal Justice
Michigan State University

David T. Lykken
Profesor of Psychiatry and Psychology
University of Minnesota Medical School

Gail J. Povar
Assistant Professor of Medicine and Health Care Sciences
The George Washington University Medical Center

Steve Pruitt
Director of Congressional Affairs
Public Employees Department, AFL-CIO

Christopher H. Pyle
Associate Professor of Politics
Mt. Holyoke College

David C. Raskin
Professor of Psychology
University of Utah

Harold Sigall
Professor of Psychology
University of Maryland

George B. Trubow
Professor of Information Law and Policy
The John Marshall Law School

Althea M. I. Wagman
Research Associate of Psychiatry
Maryland Psychiatric Research Center
University of Maryland School of Medicine

OTA Polygraph Validity Project Staff

John H. Gibbons, Acting Assistant Director, OTA
Health and Life Sciences Division *

Clyde Behney, Health Program Manager

Fred B. Wood, Project Director
(Communication and Information Technologies Program (CIT))

Leonard Saxe, Principal Investigator and Author (Boston University)**

Denise Dougherty, Co-author and Analyst (Health)t

Theodore Cross, Co-author (Boston University)tt

Jack Langenbrunner, Analyst (Health)

Katherine Locke, Research Assistant (Health)

Administrative Support

Ginny Cwalina, Administrative Assistant (Health)
Elizabeth Emanuel, Administrative Assistant (CIT)
Jennifer Nelson, Secretary (Health)
Shirley Gayheart, Secretary (CIT)

Other Contributors

MichaeI Saks, Boston College
Daniel Ozer, Boston University
Yoram Bar-Tal, Boston University
Mary Beasley, Boston University
Marie Calabrese, Boston University
Molly Zane, Boston University

OTA Publishing Staff

John C. Holmes, Publishing Officer
John Bergling Kathie S, Boss Debra M. Datcher Joe Henson
Glenda Lawing Linda A. Leahy Cheryl J. Manning

* Since September 1983; H David Banta served as Assistant Director until August 1983.
** Assistant Professor of Psychology, Boston University.
tOTA Analyst since September 1983; Boston Umversity Graduate Research Assistant until August 1983
ttGraduate Research Assistant, Boston University


OTA acknowledges the contribution of the following agencies and individuals that provided information, advice, and/or substantive reviews of draft materials:

Federal Government Agencies

Department of Defense (Office of Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, National Security Agency)
Department of Justice (Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Administration)
Department of State
Department of the Treasury (Secret Service, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms)
Postal Service
Office of Personnel Management
Central Intelligence Agency
Director of Central Intelligence (Security Committee)


Maynard Anderson, Department of Defense
Norman Ansley, National Security Agency
Gordon H. Barland, Barland & Associates
Antonio S. Barrio, Central Texas College System
Louise Becker, Congressional Research Service
William H. Bell, Department of Defense
B. F. Bloomingburg, Naval Investigative Service
Irv Boker, General Accounting Office
Robert A. Brisentine, Army Criminal Investigation Command
Henry L. Canty, Consultant
Richard P. Clayberg, SRI International
Eileen Correa, Veterans Administration Medical Center
Ron Decker, Army Military Policy School
Jack Donnelly, Department of Defense
William R. Fedor, Department of Defense
Michelle Fine, University of Pennsylvania
Robert J. Gatchel, University of Texas at Dallas
Fitz Godwin, Army
Lewis R. Goldberg, University of Oregon
Gisli Gudjonson, London Institute of Psychiatry
David L. Hammond, Psychologist
James E. Hardy, Air Force Office of Special Investigations
Fred Hegge, Walter Reed Army Institute of Research
Eric J. Holden, Baker, Holden & Associates
Charles Robert Honts, University of Utah
William G. Iacono, University of British Columbia
Michel Pierre Janisse, University of Manitoba
Richard C. Johnson, Polygraph, Inc.
Scott Kingsley, National Security Agency
Benjamin Kleinmuntz, University of Illinois at Chicago Circle
Brian E. Lynch, Canadian Police College
Lynn P. Marcy, American Polygraph Association
Paul K. Minor, Federal Bureau of Investigation
L. D. Noland, Army Intelligence and Security Command
Jesse Orlansky, Institute for Defense Analysis
John A. Podlesny, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Roland Radloff, National Science Foundation
Richard K. Riegelman, George Washington University Medical Center
John Roberts, Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts
Robert Rosenthal, Harvard University
Akihiro Suzuki, Japanese Institute of Police Science
Julian J. Szucko, University of Illinois at Chicago Circle
William A. Thomas, American Bar Foundation
Howard W. Timm, Southern Illinois University of Carbondale
H. Herbold Wooten, Institute of Applied Polygraph Science
Lawrence S. Wrightsman, University of Kansas