Should I take a polygraph examination?
Each type of examination, the specific investigation and the screening exam, has different characteristics and features. The potential impact on the examinee is also very different. Therefore, if you consider taking a polygraph examination, you should understand the type of exam you will be administered and the possible impact on your personal circumstances. In some cases a person may receive a positive benefit from the examination, while in other circumstances the potential negative impact can be very significant. A person should know how the polygraph examination is likely to affect them before she or he agrees to undergo the process. This means an individual should have a good idea as to the issue(s) or subject matter of the exam. The person should assess his or her ability and willingness to be thorough and truthful regarding the issue(s) of the exam.
Suppose a law enforcment agency asked you to submit to a polygraph examination because you are a suspect or person of interest in a particular crime. The APA encourages citizens to cooperate with law enforcement agencies. However, be aware that if you are involved in the matter under investigation and have concealed that fact from investigators, your deception will almost certainly be identified. If you have committed the crime you might want to seek legal counsel before proceeding with the polygraph. If you have not been involved in the matter under investigation, there probably are very strong reasons for you to proceed with the examination. Nevertheless, it is wise to confirm the issue(s) of the exam in advance. It is also a good idea to obtain some assurances as to how the polygraph results will be utilized. Will truthful results significantly lower you on the suspect list? What is the benefit or payoff to you for the time and effort of submitting to the exam? Similar questions should be addressed with entities such as an employer or an insurance company that might request that you submit to polygraph testing.
If your attorney is advising that you take the polygraph examination, you probably do not need to concern yourself with such issues. Generally, it is the responsibility of legal counsel to ensure your interests are protected. However, you should have an understanding as to the primary issue of the exam so you can review the matter with your counsel in advance.
You may also be offered a polygraph examination in relation to a job application or federal security clearance. Such exams are referred to as screening exams. Screening exams are different in several ways from the specific issue exam. First, screening exams address several issues as opposed to a specific matter of investigation. Secondly, the issues of a screening exam tend to be broad in scope and cover a variety of possible activities. For example, a law enforcement agency may use the exam to address issues such as major thefts/fraud, physical abuse of others, and illegal drug use.
If you decide to submit to the screening polygraph examination, you are encouraged to consider to the following advice. First be aware that exams may be long (3-4 hours). It is very important that you remain alert and involved for the entire session. So, prior to the exam get a good night's sleep and arrive well rested for the procedure. Be sure to eat a meal, and take care of personal affairs so you won't have any outside distractions during the time of your examination. If you are using a medication, adhere to your normal practice and physician's advice. Most medications are used to maintain an individual's good health, which is desirable for polygraph testing. Expect to experience some nervousness: this is normal for everyone. Contrary to a common misperception, nervousness and anxiety will not cause a person to "fail" the test. Moreover, truthful examinees generally report that they become much less nervous as the examination proceeds.