Huffpost Crime
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Diane Dimond Headshot

Your Body Telegraphs Your Lies

Posted: Updated:

Can you beat a polygraph test? Wacky suggestions range from controlling your breathing to squeezing buttocks cheeks. Experts say they can make you look guilty!

So, have you heard the stories about how to beat a polygraph test? Ever read any of the odd suggestions on the internet? Among them: Count backwards from 100 during the test to distract your brain, learn to control your breathing, put a tack in your shoe or bite down hard on your tongue to elicit a pain response and the one that makes me laugh the hardest -- contract your anal sphincter muscle to confuse the results of the test.

Do any of these methods work? According to the experts they do not. In fact, if used they can actually make innocent people look guilty.

Jack Trimarco is one of the country's pre-eminent polygraph analysts. He was with the FBI for 21 years, headed up the Los Angeles Polygraph Unit and he figures he's conducted some 2,500 lie detector tests all over the world. Trimarco is the guy both the cops and defense attorneys want to call in to get to the truth. In the absence of DNA or other conclusive evidence, a polygraph test -- given by an experienced examiner -- can be very valuable to a District Attorney struggling with whether to file charges against a suspect.

I ran into Trimarco recently at the annual conference of the California Association of Licensed Investigators in San Diego.

"There are all these anti-polygraph internet sites out there," Trimarco explained to a room full of CALI members, private detectives who had signed up to hear his presentation. "And they offer to tell you all the secrets of how to beat the test for $70." Trimarco called such sites "terrible frauds," out to take worried people's money. "We professionals already know all the tricks they peddle and can spot them a mile away," he said in his quiet but confident way.

Since the first modern-day lie detector machine back in 1921 the technology has evolved considerably. So much so that, Trimarco is willing to reveal at least one major weapon polygraphists use today to detect those test takers who attempt the "counter-measures" described above. It's called the movement or pressure pad and the person taking the test sits on it.

"It detects any muscle movement that could be a counter-measure," Trimarco told me. "If a person deliberately bites their tongue or squeezes their sphincter, their physiology will change. When a person tells a lie their physiology changes and they can't help it," he said. The subject's sweat glands will activate, their blood pressure will jump then go down immediately, their respiration will change and all this happens over the course of just a few seconds. In other words, your body telegraphs your lies.

Pam Shaw, the President of the American Polygraph Association, says, "Every test can be beaten but under polygraph (that happens) under very, very narrow conditions."

People who are required to take a polygraph to get or keep a job or to prove to law enforcement they had nothing to do with a crime, understandably, get nervous. Many hit the internet to research the polygraph process and when they run across the sometimes cockamamie sounding suggestions on the internet their anxiety might cause them to resort to counter-measures, Shaw told me during a phone conversation. "They feel they have to enhance the outcome ... and what really happens? What really happens is truthful people end up hurting themselves."

Shaw's best advice to those facing a polygraph test? "Let your body do what it does naturally."

Polygraph testing has always been controversial. So far only one state -- New Mexico -- has fully embraced the idea of allowing polygraph results to be admitted in court but only under strict certification guidelines for polygraphists. Most other states will allow the results to be presented to a jury if -- and its a big IF -- both sides agree to do so. In the real world, that rarely happens. The real problem with polygraph testing, according to those in the upper echelon of the industry, is not the machine's reliability but those barely trained, uncertified operators who try to pass themselves off as experienced.

Trimarco's advice to those who think they can beat a qualified examiner? "The only way to give an experienced, licensed polygraphed a run for their money is for the other person to be an experienced, licensed polygraph examiner."

Diane Dimond may be reached through her web site: www.DianeDimond.net