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The Comparison Question Test: Does It Work and If So How?

Abstract

In a mock crime study of the comparison question test (CQT), 35 subjects decided to participate as guilty and 30 as innocent. Two conditions were varied: Explaining the comparison questions in the pretest interview and re-discussing comparison questions between charts. Higher identification rates (∼90% for guilty and innocent participants) were achieved in groups with explanation of comparison questions than in groups without explanation. Re-discussing comparison questions had no effect on identification rates. Ratings of subjective stress due to relevant and comparison questions were also obtained and can be seen as indicators of the significance of the questions. The significance of comparison questions was hardly affected by the different testing conditions. When effects are detectable at all, they contradict theoretical expectations in their direction. Results are discussed in terms of the significance of comparison questions used in polygraph testing.

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Notes

  1. Using the total score of physiological measures as dependent variable, a three factor ANOVA (guilt×explanation×re-discussion) showed only a significant main effect of guilt (F(57,1)=44.89, p=.000, partial η 2=.440). An interaction effect guilt×explanation, indicating higher negative scores for guilty participants with explanation, misses significance (F(57,1)=3.425, p=.069, partial η 2=.057).

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Correspondence to Heinz Offe.

Appendices

Appendix A

Instruction with explanation of comparison questions

I also have a couple of personal questions for you. This is about the fact that somebody has taken something of monetary value while it was unattended. That's not everyone's cup of tea. Not everybody does something like that. I am interested in your past attitude towards other people's possessions, belongings and money. There are people who are not fussy about that and like to seize an opportunity, or maybe they will be more active, when a good opportunity presents itself, and they’ll take what isn't theirs. On the other hand, there are people who are consistently honest, who respect someone else's possessions and would not touch them. I am going to ask you some questions to find out what your history concerning this matter looks like. I want to give you the reason, too, why I have to ask you such indiscrete questions. I want to find out whether one would consider you capable of an action such as removing a voucher for 50 € based on your history or not. Depending on what you might have to tell me about dishonesties in your life so far, you would belong to the smaller circle of suspects or we could consider you unsuspicious. You know, people who took advantage of an opportunity in the past in order to gain an illicit monetary advantage, probably wouldn't miss out on this opportunity, which truly was a good one. However, if it turns out after these questions about your past, that you have been a thoroughly honest person all your life and have never done anything wrong, then it seems at least unlikely that you would have acted differently this time around. In a nutshell, I want to know whether such an action, taking something of monetary value out of a closed room fits your personality profile or not. With these personal questions, I am trying to find out whether there are things in your history with respect to honesty that one could consider questionable, worrying, suspicious or alarming. How would you judge yourself in this matter? Would you consider yourself an honest person?

These personal questions also have to be answered entirely truthfully. The more of these questions you can truthfully negate, the better it is for you, because then one can say that such an action does not fit your personality profile. If, however, you have to truthfully answer yes, then I will have to continue asking what the context was, so that I can get an impression of whether these were small and harmless delinquencies or whether there were some serious ones as well. Depending on what you tell me, it may begin to become imaginable that you may have done what we are talking about here as well.

The personal questions have nothing to do with whether you have taken the voucher or not. In order to make that clear from the beginning of every question, each personal question will start with: “Prior to 1999, …,” so that you will know right away, “this is about my past.” For the result of the polygraph examination it is important, that you answer these questions truthfully as well.

Appendix B

Instruction without explanation of comparison questions

In addition to the relevant questions I will also ask you a number of further personal questions. The personal questions have nothing to do with whether you have taken the voucher or not. In order to make that clear from the beginning of every question, each personal question will start with : “Prior to 1999, …,” so that you will know right away, “this is about my past.” For the result of the polygraph examination it is important, that you answer these questions truthfully as well.

Appendix C

List of questions used:

  1. 1.

    Do you believe me that I will only ask you questions we have talked about?

  2. 2.

    Is your last name …?

  3. 3.

    Do you have the intention to answer all questions about whether you have taken a voucher truthfully?

  4. 4.

    Prior to 1999, have you done anything as far as financial matters are concerned that could have got you in trouble?

  5. 5.

    Have you taken a voucher for 50 €?

  6. 6.

    Prior to 1999, have you ever taken anything that wasn't yours?

  7. 7.

    Have you taken a voucher for 50 € off the table in the office?

  8. 8.

    Prior to 1999, have you ever thought about trying to gain a financial advantage that you were not entitled to?

  9. 9.

    Are you in possession of a voucher for 50 €?

  10. 10.

    Prior to 1999, can you remember ever having lied to get out of a difficult situation?

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Offe, H., Offe, S. The Comparison Question Test: Does It Work and If So How?. Law Hum Behav 31, 291–303 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10979-006-9059-3

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Keywords

  • Comparison question test
  • Detection of deception
  • Polygraph