Seeing Through the Lies

Hard as one may try, our bodies do not lie. In addition to the polygraph and fMRI brain scans that measure physiological responses when someone is lying, researchers at the University of Utah have created ocular motor deception detection technology, which employs eye-tracking technology to measure cognitive responses, specifically pupil dilation, to determine when someone is lying.

The University of Utah researchers -- educational psychologists John Kircher, Doug Hacker, Anne Cook, Dan Woltz and David Raskin -- say they are the first to develop and assess the software and methods for applying these tests effectively.

Promising Results
In a mock crime lab scenario, the researchers designed an experiment using an office setting with a secretary, who has money in her purse, and another employee.

The employee is instructed to steal $20 from the purse, and then he or she takes the test. The subject sits at computer screen with an eye-tracking device to answer true or false questions.

The test takes approximately 25 minutes, and the software measures and analyzes pupil dilation and eye movements to determine truthfulness. The software also records and measures answer response time, reading and rereading time and errors. The researchers determined that lying requires more work than telling the truth, so they look for indications that the subject is working hard. For example, a person who is being dishonest may have dilated pupils and take longer to read and answer the questions. The software accounts for these minute reactions by employing sophisticated measurement and statistical modeling.

The end result yields either a green, red or yellow indicator. Green means the subject is being truthful, red means deceptive and yellow means the results are questionable.

New Technology Offers More Benefits
Ocular motor deception detection technology is not intended to replace the polygraph; the intent is to offer an alternate method. At this stage, researchers need to find a field-test venue. The Employee Polygraph Protection Act prohibits the private sector from using lie-detection tests for pre-employment testing, but the researchers are hopeful the technology will prove effective for pre-employment screening of government employees and for screening visa applicants.

Numerous government agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, Department of Energy, FBI and CIA, as well as European banks, use polygraphs to screen employees and job applicants. The researchers recommend administering their test prior to a polygraph. If a subject fails the test, then they would move on to the polygraph for a secondary testing.

Ocular motor deception detection technology offers the same accuracy as a polygraph, but at a fraction of the cost because the test does not require a skilled examiner. Instead, the test is administered by a technician who manages a computer preloaded with the researchers’ software.

“The accuracies in our three experiments have ranged from 82 to 91 percent,” Kircher said. “Under ideal conditions, polygraph accuracy in specificincident criminal cases is 90 percent. In screening situations, which is where we think our eye tracking technology will be most useful, polygraph accuracy probably is closer to 80 percent.”

Also the eye-tracking method requires one-fifth of the time currently needed for polygraph tests, requires no attachments to the subject and is available in any language.

One Step Closer Recently, the University of Utah licensed the technology to Credibility Assessment Technologies, based in Park City, Utah, and managed by venture capitalists Donald Sanborn and Gerald Sanders, who are the president and chairman, respectively.

This milestone brings the technology one step closer to market.

“The eye-tracking method for detecting lies has great potential,” Sanders said. “It’s a matter of national security that our government agencies have the best and most advanced methods for detecting truth from fiction, and we believe we are addressing that need by licensing the extraordinary research done at the University of Utah.”

“We have gotten great results from our experiments,” Kircher said. “They are as good as -- or better -- than the polygraph, and we are still in the early stages of this innovative new method to determine if someone is trying to deceive you.”

“I came to the University of Utah to do work in reading comprehension, but I jumped at the chance to get involved with this research,” Cook said. “That’s the fun of this kind of job. You get the opportunity to collaborate with your colleagues to achieve more than any of you could individually.”

The researchers still have more work to do, but they hope the licensing will help them attract additional funding and interest from potential customers.

“It’s exciting that our testing method is going to be taken from a basic research program to commercial use,” Cook said.

This article originally appeared in the September 2010 issue of Security Today.

About the Author

Sherleen Mahoney is a Web managing editor at 1105 Media.

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