The polygraph machine isn't really used to detect anything, but rather as a tool to enhance the interrogation. Remember, the suspect is only being questioned because they think he did it. The purpose is still to get him to admit it. The point of the polygraph was to give the secret inquisition the illusion of legitimacy.


“Lie detectors” have been around for thousands of years, usually involving some sort of ordeal — trial by fire, by water, by being able to spit out a mouthful of grains without them sticking — magical ordeals where one’s physiological response (wounds, pain, death, dry mouth) revealed whether one was telling the truth or not. They were hardly scientific.

The first “scientific” lie detector was probably the systolic blood pressure meter, invented in 1915 by a young psychologist named William Moulton Marston. Marston’s blood pressure meter later became an integral part of the invention known as the polygraph machine, which also measured other physiological responses to stress. The polygraph isn’t terribly scientific — its accuracy isn’t so great, and polygraph exams aren’t administered by trained psychologists, but rather by cops who craft the various questions to be asked and who divine whether the physiological results indicate a lie. It’s still more or less a magical ordeal.

In 1940, Marston went on to create the comic book superheroine Wonder Woman… whose weapons of course include the magical “Lasso of Truth.”

Comics: Making the world a better, more magical place.


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There are now 14 comments... what are your thoughts?
  1. Chug says

    I once almost failed a polygraph test because I apparently don’t react to lying. At all. The operator said my reactions were flat, even when saying stuff known to be untrue (the test questions), but in the end he gave me a pass so I could be a police volunteer. Good thing I’m so honest, eh? :D

  2. Jon says

    How Marston’s views on society transferred over to Wonder Woman could probably be the subject of a whole essay on its own.

  3. Lord Grey says

    When I was in School our class once visited a fair about psychology and parapsychology. Around other items there was also a polygraph to try out. They just use it to show how stress can be detected and how different topics tend to stress people. When it was my turn the guy operating the instrument nearly desperate. He raised the sensitivity more and more, but still no reaction from my account. Till my teacher suddenly said something, then the instrument went of the scale. God, that was so embarrassing. The guy got on to explain that there is to distinguish between positive and negative stress, but we know exactly what it was. It was an interesting experience, but since then I know you can’t trust a lie detector, or the guy operating it.

  4. austin says

    what is that molecule? it’s been driving me crazy for days. at first i thought it was caffeine but it doesn’t look like caffeine, nor any of the popular organic molecules (caffeine, capsaicin, sucrose)

    • Given the ion on the end, you should be thinking “ligand.” But don’t go crazy — it’s not an actual one that I’m aware of. Looks pretty, though, don’t it?

      • Looks like it’s a pyrimidine fused to pentenolide, with a isopropyl group jammed onto the pentenolide, and a methylamino group onto the pyrimidine, and the whole mess protonated. If I was an actual organic chemist and not just bored and with wikipedia access, I’m sure I could work out the proper chemical name for that. Ah well, good enough.

  5. KW says

    As long as we’re picking it apart, is that your fingerprint, or did you actually draw one from scratch?

  6. WJS says

    That sounds familiar;
    Take a car you already think has drugs in it.
    Run a dog over it.
    Say the dog smelled drugs, and search the car.
    If you were right, tout it as an example of these great police tools.
    If you were wrong, eh, better luck next time. Nobody expects these dogs to be perfect.
    The dog may or may not detect anything, but it’ll get you into those cars you already fingered. And if you can pick the right car, say, 60% of the time, then the dog will come out with a 60% hit rate. That proves it works!

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