The quest to build the perfect lie detector:  Researchers are getting close to replace the polygraph

This article is a condensed excerpt from The Neurotourist: Postcards From the Edge of Brain Science, by Lone Frank, new from OneWorld Publications.

Where there are people, there are lies. The theory of Machiavellian intelligence claims that our capacity to deceive was developed by virtue of our distant ancestors’ way of life and refined as their primate brains grew and developed more complex structures. Our closest relatives indicate that, from an evolutionary point of view, it has to do with the youngest part of the brain, that outer layer of coiling tissue called the neocortex, which takes up nearly eighty percent of human brain volume. The Scottish primatologist Richard Byrne and his partner Nadia Corp of the University of St. Andrews have explored the brains and behaviors of eighteen species of primates, and they found a striking connection. The larger the animal’s neocortex, the better they were at deceiving their fellow primates in everyday situations.

Homo sapiens lies all the time. As individuals, we discover the nature of the lie at around the age of three or four and, from then on, it is a natural companion without which only very few can imagine living. You can’t really conceive of a modern, well-functioning society without the lie.

Finding a sure-fire method for revealing lies and deceit is, of course, an age-old dream. And all cultures have had their own traditions and folklore on how to identify the perpetrators. The polygraph, which is an American invention dating back to 1913, is not used much in Europe. In many countries, it is not deemed to provide reliable evidence. In the US, on the other hand, it is used frequently by defense attorneys, prosecutors and police and, according to a Supreme Court decision, it is up to the individual judge whether polygraph data may be used as evidence in a case. The lie detector, however, is under intense attack as ineffectual. There are even organizations – for example – that are campaigning to scrap the apparatus altogether because of its lack of scientific grounding.  Read Article

By Lone Frank
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