Owned and Managed by Former Federal Polygraph Managers

Frequently Asked Questions


1.  What is a polygraph?

A.  The polygraph is a scientific instrument which is designed to record and display physiological responses to test items.  Modern instrumentation is computerized and includes specialized software to aid the examiner. 

2.  What does the polygraph instrument record?

A.  The polygraph consists of 4-6 channels of physiological data.   Respiration is recorded with two corrugated tubes placed around the body, one just above the heart and the other over the stomach. .  Changes in skin moisture are monitored with sensors placed on the fingers or palms.  Pulse and relative blood pressure are detected using a standard blood pressure cuff placed on the upper arm.  Many instruments also record changes in capillary dilation using a finger sensor and all polygraphs now include sensors to detect body movement.   

3.  How accurate is the polygraph? 

A.  There are several polygraph approaches and applications and polygraph accuracy is not the same for all of them.  In a meta-analysis conducted by the US National Research Council, median accuracy was placed between 85% and 90% for event-specific testing.  Polygraph research that evaluated techniques in which testing was conducted using empirically derived practices suggests accuracy somewhat above 90%.  Lower accuracy is expected in multiple-issue and screening testing, though those accuracies are a function of how many relevant questions are used and how broad they are.  As with all assessment methods, accuracy can be affected by the training and competency of the testing examiner.  The highest accuracy may be achieved by an examiner who graduated from an accredited polygraph education program, completed an internship with direct oversight, maintains proficiency through continuing education, passes a rigorous licensing examination, uses only validated testing protocols, and subjects all polygraph work to independent review.  Examiners who have also published peer-reviewed research, served on professional boards, and have extensive instructor experience are more likely to produce quality work.  Examiners without a solid educational foundation, who disregard continuing education, are not members of established professional organizations, or who make extravagant claims of accuracy are usually operating outside of best practices. 

4.  I have been told it hurts to take a polygraph test.  Is that true? 

A.  In the past some people were uncomfortable with the pressure they felt from the blood pressure cuff with the older instrumentation.   Modern computerized polygraph uses much lower pressure.  Complaints about pain from polygraph testing are very rare today.   

5.  How long does a polygraph examination take?

A.  The majority of polygraph examinations conducted will take between 90 and 120 minutes, however, depending on the circumstances surrounding your case we ask that all examinees plan on spending four (4) hours per session.  

6.  How many questions are on the test? 

A.  It depends on the type of test being given; the science associated with a particular technique will determine the number of questions which are allowed.  As a general rule you can expect between two and four questions about the test issue along with a small number of other questions included for technical reasons.   Every polygraph question will be discussed with the examinee prior to any data being collected to ensure that the examinee understands the scope of the questions and the answers that will be given.  No surprise questions should ever be asked on the examination.   

7.  How much does a polygraph examination cost? 

A. As with all professional services, fee structures can vary according to the type of service, time involved, complexity of service and the expertise required.  Please give us a call to discuss your needs, and we can explain our competitive fees at no obligation. 

8.  I work nights.  Will that affect the test? 

A.  We want you to have a normal amount of sleep prior to taking an examination as being extremely fatigued may have an impact on your ability to concentrate.  If you work nights, share this with your examiner and arrangements will be made to work around your schedule.  

9.  I have a medical condition.  Can I still take the test? 

A.  Generally, the answer to this question is yes.  However, there may be times when your examiner will have you consult with your doctor prior to taking the exam.  If you have any questions concerning a medical condition please discuss them privately with your examiner. 

10.  Should I stop taking my medications before my scheduled polygraph exam? 

A.  No. Please continue taking all prescribed medications as directed by your doctor.  On the day of your examination your examiner will discuss this further with you. 

11.   I am a really nervous person.  Can I still take a test? 

A.  Yes.  Everyone who takes a polygraph examination is nervous. It is natural and expected.  The examiner will walk you through every step of the polygraph process to ensure that all of your questions are answered and your needs are met. 

12.  Do drugs or alcohol affect the test?

A.  Under certain conditions drugs and alcohol may produce inconclusive results. As a matter of course, polygraph examiners defer until later any testing of individuals whose ability to focus on the examination is substantially degraded for any reason.  

13.  What should I do to prepare for my upcoming polygraph? 

A.  Continue your normal day-to-day activities.  Do what you can to arrive for your examination without the distractions of fatigue, hunger, or discomfort.  Get a good night’s rest beforehand.  Continue taking your prescriptions, and make a note of what they are as they may be discussed during your interview before testing takes place. 

14.  Will I know what the questions are before you ask them to me on the test? 

A.  Yes.  Examinees hear, and agree to, each test question prior to testing. There is never a surprise question asked during the test. 

15.  Can you beat a polygraph examination? 

A. It is true that all things made by man can be defeated.  The biggest challenge for beating a polygraph, however, is that it entails a significant risk of detection which, in these days of sophisticated software and recording equipment, makes success far from certain.  Indeed, trying to affect the results can make things worse.  Recent scientific research offers little hope for people relying on websites and books on how to beat the polygraph, and there is some evidence that the use of these methods by truth telling examinees reduces their chances of passing the test. For these reasons we discourage examinees from trying to affect their test results. 

16.  How long does it take before I know the results? 

A.  Upon the completion of the examination your examiner will evaluate the data and provide the client with a diagnostic opinion.  If a written report is required it is normally completed within two business days for routine examinations. 

17.  What is EPPA?  

A.  The Employee Polygraph Protection Act (EPPA) generally prevents employers from using the polygraph, either for pre-employment screening or during the course of employment, with certain exemptions. Employers generally may not require or request any employee or job applicant to take a polygraph, discharge, discipline, or discriminate against an employee or job applicant for refusing to take a test.   To learn more about EPPA please visit the United States Department of Labor website for further details. 

18.  Polygraph isn't admissible in court, right? 

A.  Not exactly.  The polygraph can be admitted as evidence in a court proceeding in many jurisdictions when both the prosecution and defense stipulate or agree that it can be admitted.  This is typically accomplished by reaching an agreement between the parties before the polygraph test is administered.  In addition, New Mexico allows the polygraph to be admitted without the stipulation of the parties under certain circumstances.  Finally, many jurisdictions permit a party to seek admissibility on a case by case basis. 

19.  If I take an examination from you is it confidential? 

A.  Yes, the test is completely confidential.  Disclosure of the results is limited to those listed in an agreement signed by the examinee and the examiner prior to the examination. 

20.  Are polygraph and a voice stress device the same thing? 

A.  No.  Research over the past 50 years has supported the polygraph when used under proper conditions and with valid testing protocols.  In contrast, scientists researching voice-based devices have conclusively debunked them in both field and lab studies.  Based on government and other research, there are now dozens of US government polygraph programs for national security and public safety.  What is telling is that there are none for voice-based devices, and they have been explicitly banned by the Department of Defense due to their poor validity.  

21.  Can someone be with me when I take the polygraph?

A.  You can have someone accompany you to the examination site.  However, third parties are not permitted in the test room except when they are necessary for the conduct of the exam (e.g., interpreters).  By special arrangement we can record the session in addition to providing remote audio/video monitoring, subject to conditions and agreements.