Lie Detection

The Journal of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology. (June 2005); 16(2): 357 – 369. ISSN 1478-9949 print/ISSN 1478-9957 online # 2005 Taylor & Francis Group Ltd DOI: 10.1080/14789940412331337353


  • Humans are in general poor lie detectors. In experimental settings, the ability of the average person to catch a liar is rarely above 60% (DePaulo & Rosenthal, 1979; Vrij, 2000; Zuckerman, Spiegel, DePaulo, & Rosenthal, 1982).
  • Early societies made use of elaborate and creative procedures for detecting liars, commonly based on torture or some form of ‘trial by ordeal’ from which a higher power was expected to protect the innocent truth teller from harm; versions of such trials by ordeal have been described in ancient Greece, pre-Christian Scandinavia, Iceland, Polynesia, Japan, and Africa (Segrave, 2004).
  • In the Middle Ages, the honest man in some parts of Europe was expected to be able to hold his arm in boiling water longer than a liar, while in Scandinavia, a woman accused of adultery was required to ‘clear herself with the iron,’ that is, hold a red-hot iron for a short time: if her hands burnt she was guilty of adultery.
  • In China suspects were required to chew rice powder and spit it out; if the powder was dry, the suspect was guilty (Sullivan, 2001; Trovillo, 1939).
  • In the late 19th century the Italian criminologist Lombroso was among the first to adapt this type of reasoning and physiological notions to lie detection by monitoring changes in blood volume during interrogation to infer a suspect’s veracity (Larson, 1932).
  • Early in the 20th century the Austrian Benussi investigated the relationship between lying and multiple physiological measures, including blood pressure, pulse, and breathing rate. From his research Benussi concluded that lying was accompanied by a change in the ratio of expiration to inspiration, the so- called ‘Benussi ratio’ (Larson, 1932).
  • In Marston’s lie test blood pressure was measured intermittently during questioning using a standard blood pressure cuff and stethoscope. He reported high positive correlations between lying and changes in systolic blood pressure, and claimed to have discovered the specific lie response, predicting ‘the end of man’s long, futile striving for a means of distinguishing truth-telling from deception’ (Marston, 1938, p. 45).

‘Mental Illness is a Myth’

What is mental illness?

Mental illness is a myth. Psychiatrists are not concerned with mental illness and their treatments. In actual practice, they deal with personal, social and ethical problems of living (Szasz, 1972).

This is a question that has crossed my mind on many occasions.
‘What is this?’
‘What is happening?’

Thomas Szasz, a sociologist makes a radical proposition that mental illness is just a way of categorising people based on their behaviours – should their behaviours be ones that society disapprove of.

I have taken this to mean that, should you as an individual, not follow the norms of society and behave in a way that society deems  ‘normal’, you will then be categorised as having one illness or another.

The article I am reading goes on to explain this in a way that seems to hit the nail right on the head!

If you talk to God, you are praying; if God talks to you, you have schizophrenia.

If the dead talk to you, you are a spiritualist but if you talk to the dead, you are a schizophrenic.

There is obviously controversy regarding this topic and this particular opinion. Edwin Lemert was very keen to stress that certain labels such as paranoia are constructed out of social processes and relationships, rather than being based on a medical basis. This then ties in with self fulfilling prophecies…

‘Fred is uneasy around people, which in turn makes people uneasy around Fred. After starting a new office job, Fred is invited to the staff Christmas party which he declines feeling as though the night would be an ordeal. Staff feel relieved and do not invite Fred to future social gatherings, assuming that Fred will not want to go. Fred is aware of this night out and feels excluded. Fred then reacts to this by isolating himself more and more and avoiding going into the staff room completely. This then leads to staff talking about Fred covertly, to prevent any further reactions from Fred, however, Fred is aware that people are talking about him. Fred then feel paranoid whenever he is at work.’

Lemert (1972) would argue that this is not paranoia born out of mental illness but based out of reality as Fred is being talked about. If Fred then leaves his job due to this paranoia and starts a new job, his experience will follow him and may then result in a vicious cycle. Fred may go into a new job and not have the confidence to start anew, thus he will be repeating past experiences.


Is mental illness based on medical opinion or social norms?


Cunningham, J & Cunningham, S (2013). Sociology and Social Work, Null Learning Matters (pp 20 – 22)