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Meta-analysis of mock crime studies of the control question polygraph technique


A review of results obtained from standard guilty and innocent treatment conditions in 14 mock crime studies of the control question polygraph technique revealed accuracies ranging from chance to 100% correct. The present study examined several factors that may have contributed to the observed variability in detection rates across studies. Those included sampling error, differences in the populations from which subjects were drawn (Subjects), differences in the nature of incentives provided to subjects for passing the polygraph test (Incentives), and differences in the methods for diagnosing truth or deception (Decision Policy). A meta-analysis revealed that approximately 24% of the variance in detection rates could be attributed to sampling error, and detection rates were correlated with types of Subjects (r=.61). Incentives (r=.73), and Decision Policies (r=.67). The highest diagnostic accuracies were obtained from nonstudent subject samples, when both guilty and innocent subjects were offered monetary incentives to convince the examiner of their innocence, and when conventional field methods were used for interpreting the physiological recordings and diagnosing truth and deception. Together, differences in Subjects, Incentives, and Decision Policies may account for as much as 65% of the observed variance in detection rates. The present findings highlight the importance of conducting mock crime experiments that closely approximate field conditions.

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Kircher, J.C., Horowitz, S.W. & Raskin, D.C. Meta-analysis of mock crime studies of the control question polygraph technique. Law Hum Behav 12, 79–90 (1988). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01064275

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  • Social Psychology
  • Diagnostic Accuracy
  • Treatment Condition
  • Field Condition
  • Detection Rate