June 2, 2009

Professor dubious about new lie detectors

A U.S. professor says she is unconvinced new technologies such as functional magnetic resonance imaging are superior to polygraph tests for detecting lies.

University of Illinois Professor Melissa Littlefield says in today's forensically sophisticated, CSI-influenced world, polygraphy -- which bases its results on functions of the autonomic nervous system -- is being increasingly dismissed as dated and unreliable.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging and Brain Fingerprinting have been hailed as the next, best technologies for lie detection "¦, Littlefield said. Far from describing the brain and its functions, fMRI and Brain Fingerprinting produce models of the brain that reinforce social notions of deception, truth and deviance.

Littlefield said she's unconvinced the new technologies are necessarily superior to the old ones and she advises caution when considering the promise of brain-based truth-seeking technologies.

This 9/11 kind of hype has allowed and fueled this desire both in scientists and the media, and in popular culture, to try to find something to hold onto for security's sake, she said. But I don't think it's really there -- at least not yet."

Her research appears in the May issue of the journal Science, Technology & Human Values.