Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Voice Stress Analysis (formerly lie detector/polygraph)

What I'm reading: Rita entries, book 3 of 8.

What I'm writing: Untitled mystery short (or will it grow too long?)

Yesterday as one of the requirements for the Civilian Police Academy Alumnae, I went to the Sheriff's Office for a Voice Stress Analysis. Seems they consider anyone associated with the Office as a potential hire and we're screened just like anyone applying for a job.

No more electrical connections, straps or wires. Everything is based on micro-tremors in the voice, and you're hooked up to a small microphone at/near your throat and to a laptop computer.

The examiner was friendly, and experienced in putting people at ease. We chatted for a while about everyday stuff (although he did put a recorder on the table as soon as I sat down). He liked the idea that I was a writer, and was open to showing me the test results after we were finished. Everything is book fodder.

He read through the umpteem page list of questions I'd had to answer before coming in, asking for more details here and there. I'd filled the form out months ago and hadn't reviewed it. The first question asks if you'd ever done anything that if you did it today, you could be arrested. I'd checked "no" reflexively. He peered up at me and asked if I'd ever smoked marijuana. Well, I came of age in the 60s, and although I'd answered the specific drug-use question honestly, it hadn't occurred to me when I'd ticked the 'no' box there. I confessed to being like most everyone else in my generation; he laughed, took his red pen and made the change.

We reviewed the rest of the questions, and I confessed to probably pilfering paper clips when I was teaching and brought home papers to grade. Then he told me that he'd ask 31 questions, all of which were to be answered 'yes' or 'no'. Once we started, no more jocularity. He also told me I should lie to two questions. 1) "Are you wearing glasses?", where I was to say "yes" and 2) "Have you ever exceeded the speed limit" where I was to say "no." (He didn't even ASK if that would be a lie.)

So, we did all the questions. Then we did them again, this time with the mic clipped to the neckline of my sweater. If he didn't get an accurate reading, or didn't click his button to accept the response fast enough, or if something looked 'fishy', he said he'd repeat the question. To my surprise, he didn't have to repeat any of the 'real' questions, but he had to ask me three times if there was a recorder on the table, if the lights were on in the room, and if he was wearing a shirt. Also, noise in the hall outside interferes with the readings. I asked him why the "Quiet, interview in progress" sign was inside the room, and he said it was because when he put it outside, people bumped into it and swore, which was more disruptive than the normal sounds.

After we did the test twice, he deleted a bunch of questions and we did it once more. The one questionable response he got surprised me -- it was my 'no' answer to, "have you ever been questioned as a suspect in a crime?" That's something that's a definite 'no' for me -- nothing gray about it at all. But the readout was clearly 'stressed', although not enough for him to report it. He said it could have been because my mind was running through plot ideas or things I'd written. I found it interesting that the physiological responses show up even when you've 'rehearsed' the answers several times. It seems this system must be a lot harder to fool than the older polygraph tests.

All in all, a fascinating hour. I can't wait to see how I can put it to use in a story.

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