Can You Really Beat the Polygraph Test in 2023? Experts Answer

If you are a candidate for a polygraph examination and have concerns about its reliability or the outcome, it is only natural for you to begin looking for ways to beat the machine or control your results.

In this article, we discuss the likelihood of beating the polygraph exam in depth based on our own experience. We demonstrate how contradictory and incorrect information can be obtained on the internet and in books, and we conclude with our own fact-based opinions.

Any cursory internet search will bring up a wide variety of “hints” and “tricks” for how to beat a polygraph test. Becoming quickly confused and overwhelmed as you read articles that offer clearly unreliable advice is almost a guarantee.

You’ll find detailed and foolproof techniques to easily beat the polygraph exam, while others will tell you that it is completely impossible to outsmart one. So, which one is it?

An examinee during a lie detector test

The first step is understanding how the exam works. When taking a polygraph examination, the examiner will attach a series of sensors to your body, including a blood pressure cuff, electrodes on your fingers, a respiratory belt, and sometimes monitors to check for leg or anal spincter movements. These sensors will measure your physiological responses, including your heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, and perspiration.

During the test, you will be asked a series of questions that are designed to elicit emotional responses. The examiner will typically begin by asking you a series of baseline questions, such as your name and address, to establish a baseline for your physiological responses.

Next, the examiner will ask a series of relevant questions that are related to the issue being investigated. For example, if the test is being used to determine whether you have committed a crime, the relevant questions might include, “Did you commit the crime?” or “Were you present at the scene of the crime?”

Finally, the examiner will ask a series of comparison questions that are designed to elicit a physiological response from any person. These comparison questions might include questions like “Have you ever lied to someone you love?” or “Have you ever stolen anything?”. Most people will answer “no” to at least one of these questions that should have been answered “yes.” This is supposedly displayed as a blip on the polygraph machine that will serve as a signature of your lie.

The theory behind polygraph tests is that changes in physiological responses, such as an increased heart rate or sweating, can indicate deception. When asked a relevant question vs. a control question, your body will respond more strongly if you are lying than if you are speaking the truth.


Is the test accurate?

The credibility of polygraphs was challenged almost as soon as they were invented in 1921, and ongoing debates about their accuracy have continued to the present. Numerous organizations, including the National Academy of Sciencethe US Congress Office of Technology Assessment, and the American Psychological Association, have questioned the tests’ accuracy. Even so, the polygraph is routinely used in many situations, such as employment screenings and interrogating criminal suspects.

Scientists and law enforcement believe there are a number of reasons why the test could be inaccurate, from poorly formulated questions to the examiner misreading results. The accuracy is estimated to be between 75% and 90% with proper quality controls, but ultimately, experts agree there are many caveats to polygraph exams. Skillful liars can mimic physiological responses to manipulate the exam.


Conflicting claims regarding beating the polygraph test

An examinee's hand is attached to the polygraph machine.

Organizations, such as the American Psychological Association, claim that many people who have “beaten” the polygraph exam have a misapprehension of what beating the polygraph actually means.

Some believe that if the test results are inconclusive, it has been beaten. However, just because the results are inconclusive doesn’t mean they’ve been able to successfully lie; it only means there is no conclusion either way. This will usually lead to a re-test request.

Contrasting blogs and articles claim that it is possible to beat the lie detector if you are dealing with a novice examiner, but close to impossible if you are dealing with an experienced professional.

If your examiner isn’t seasoned yet, they may not be used to noticing the telltale signs that you are employing techniques that someone who has handled hundreds of exams will be able to spot both in the data and the behavior.

On the other hand, experienced examiners know what websites can teach when it comes to altering human physiology. They also know that it is difficult to learn how to alter what appears when it comes to displaying a genuine or natural response to an exam question.

Trying to alter the bodies’ responses from normal reactions can, in some cases, create abnormal data that might be recognized by an experienced examiner.

In 2003, the National Review Council issued a statement explaining the credible evidence of an extremely high level of mental and physical countermeasure skills that would be required to beat a polygraph test. This conclusion meant that they did not believe, based on a lack of evidence, that the test could be beaten.

Since then, several studies have been conducted, and a plethora of information can be found online when learning about the countermeasures that can be used to trick or beat the exam.


Countermeasure types (professional terminology)

A polygraph examiner trying to look for countermeasures

In one study, several tests were conducted to find which countermeasures examinees could use and if they were successful. There are four major CMs:

  • General State
  • Specific Point
  • Spontaneous
  • Information


General State Countermeasure

The general state countermeasure would be used to alter mental and physical being. doing this by taking drugs, drinking alcohol, and taking relaxation or interfering agents. When using the general state CM, the examinee would not be focused on any specific point during the test.

Specific Point Countermeasure

The specific point countermeasure is when attempting to reduce responses to relevant questions and increase responses to comparison questions. most likely by altering mental or physical responses.

Spontaneous Countermeasure

Spontaneous countermeasures are techniques to sway the exam results without any planning or forethought. These include relaxation or meditation techniques, rationalization, imagery, controlling heart rate and breathing, staying calm, or even biting the tongue and pressing the toes at random times throughout the exam.

Information Countermeasure

The information countermeasure is used when seeking information prior to the test in an attempt to satisfy curiosity, hide deception, or ensure truth-telling is obvious.

Both innocent and guilty individuals frequently use the information countermeasure during their examination.

In conclusion to this study, 68% of people admitted to attempting the spontaneous countermeasure technique, and almost half of them were truthful candidates.


Drugs used to beat the test

A 1981 study found that a small dose of meprobamate, a commonly used tranquilizer, allowed people to lie without being detected by a polygraph. It was believed the tranquilizer effects would slow your physical reactions but keep you calm and alert during the exam.

Heart rate medications and blood pressure prescriptions, along with anti-anxiety, allergy, sleep, and cough medications, may affect the test, often leading to an inconclusive result. However, in the present day, there are many drugs that can be detected during the pre-screen drug check.


The most frequently found methods for beating the polygaph

  1. Controlled Breathing: This technique involves deliberately manipulating your breathing pattern to lower your physiological responses during the test. The idea is to take deep, slow breaths during baseline questions and then speed up your breathing during relevant questions to simulate an increased physiological response.
  2. Muscle Tensing: This technique involves tensing your muscles during the baseline questions and then deliberately relaxing them during the relevant questions. The idea is to trick the polygraph into thinking that the relevant questions are less stressful than the baseline questions.
  3. Mental Countermeasures: Some people have tried using mental techniques to help them pass the test, such as imagining calming scenes or repeating a mantra to themselves during the test. The idea is to reduce anxiety and stress responses that might trigger a false positive.
  4. Cognitive Behavioral Techniques: Cognitive behavioral techniques involve learning to manage your thoughts and emotions in a way that reduces stress and anxiety. These techniques can be useful for people who are naturally anxious or who have a history of panic attacks.


Online advice on how to beat a polygraph test

A screen reading the polygraph test results

As we’ve previously mentioned, searching the web will provide conflicting evidence and advice when teaching you to beat the exam.


  • One common “hack” is to create physical and emotional extremes in your behavior to skew the results. An example of this, provided by Russell Tice, the National Security Agency’s whistleblower, would be to bite your tongue while answering a question the examiner will expect you to lie about (the control question). He argues that increasing your physical reaction when lying about a harmless question will make your reaction when lying about an important query seem much less in comparison.
  • Some articles will advise you to purposely quicken your breathing while answering a control question and then breathe normally again when you’ve moved on to the next query. Others will suggest poking your thumb or placing a needle in your shoe.
  • You might find several blogs that suggest acting distraught throughout the entire test, no matter what questions are being asked. This is a common spontaneous countermeasure, used when thinking of upsetting circumstances, to keep your mood and demeanor unpredictable to the examiner.


In contrast to advice that being in a heightened emotional state or actual physical pain is the best route to beating the polygraph, some claim that the best approach is to remain as calm as possible, either by daydreaming, imagining your favorite place, or picturing whatever calms you to help control your physiological reactions.

Other tips found online include:

  • Listen and recognize the types of questions being asked, such as relevant, irrelevant, and control questions, and alter your responses accordingly.
  • Mentally alter the meaning of the questions being asked. For example,mentally reinterpret a relevant question as being about something entirely different in order to avoid feeling guilty about the response.
  • Conceal previous research you’ve conducted about polygraph exams. Avoid admitting to any extensive research. In-depth knowledge of the process may indicate to the examiner that you have something to hide, even if you don’t.
  • Say only what you need to. Yes-or-no answers should be all you need for most of your exam. You should not offer any more information than is absolutely necessary.
  • Don’t admit to anything relevant. No matter what the lines on your chart look like, only your confession will be damaging. The examiner might try to convince you that they can “see” a lie in the polygraph results, but that isn’t totally accurate. Making sure you don’t admit anything that invites further questions gives you a better chance of appearing truthful.
  • Alter your breathing rate in between questions by changing your breathing pattern, making it fast or slow, holding your breath, or breathing shallowly.
  • Answer questions strangely or vaguely. This will make it difficult for the tester to get a read on what a “normal” response is for you.
  • Think of something mentally stressful when answering irrelevant questions. You can modify the results showing “normal” responses actually distress you. An example would be mentally picturing a frightening scenario to increase your heart rate and breathing.


Analysis of the effectiveness of these countermeasures

An examiner administering a polygraph test to an examinee
Countermeasures against polygraph tests have been around for as long as the tests themselves. Some have claimed success in using these techniques to deceive the test, but the effectiveness of these countermeasures is still a matter of debate.

One issue is that the effectiveness of countermeasures can vary depending on the individual and the type of test being administered. For example, some countermeasures, such as controlled breathing or mental exercises, may work better for specific individuals than others. Similarly, certain countermeasures may be more effective for specific types of tests, such as those focused on deception versus those focused on crime-related behavior.

Additionally, while some countermeasures may work in the short term, they may not be effective in the long term. For example, a countermeasure that involves drinking large amounts of water before the test to dilute bodily fluids may work for one test, but the effects may not last for subsequent tests as the examiner may simply adjust the test parameters.

Another factor that affects the effectiveness of countermeasures is the skill level of the examiner administering the test. A skilled examiner can detect and control many countermeasures, making them less effective.

Research has also shown that some countermeasures can actually increase the likelihood of a false positive result, meaning that an innocent person is incorrectly identified as deceptive. For example, countermeasures that involve physical pain or anxiety may result in false positives as they may trigger physiological responses similar to those associated with deception.


Studies conducted about beating the polygraph test

Over the years, several studies have been conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of different countermeasures in deceiving the polygraph test. Some of these studies have focused on specific techniques, such as mental countermeasures, while others have examined broader methods, such as the use of anti-anxiety medication.

One study conducted by the National Research Council found that the accuracy of the polygraph test is dependent on several factors, including the skill of the examiner, the type of questions being asked, and the individual’s psychological and physiological state. In other words, even if an individual is successful in using a countermeasure, it may not necessarily result in a passing score on the test.

Another study conducted by the Department of Defense examined the effectiveness of various countermeasures, such as controlled breathing and mental imagery. The study found that while some of these techniques may help an individual pass the test, they were not completely reliable and could be detected by a skilled examiner.

Other studies have looked at the use of drugs, such as beta-blockers, to manipulate physiological responses and therefore deceive the polygraph test. While some studies have shown that these drugs may be effective in lowering an individual’s anxiety and stress levels, they also have potential side effects and can be easily detected by examiners.

Overall, the results of these studies suggest that while certain countermeasures may be effective in deceiving the polygraph test, they are not foolproof and can be detected by skilled examiners.


Techniques and methods used by polygraph test administrators to detect and counter countermeasures

An Examiner Interpreting The Polygraph Tests Results

  1. Behavioral observation: Examiners are trained to observe an examinee’s behavior during the test, such as changes in posture, fidgeting, or changes in breathing. Behavioral observation can provide valuable information about an examinee’s state of mind.
  2. Eye-tracking: Eye-tracking technology can be used to determine whether an individual is trying to manipulate their physiological responses. For example, if an individual is trying to mask their emotions, they may try to look away from the examiner when answering questions.
  3. Voice Stress Analysis: Voice stress analysis is a technique used to detect changes in an individual’s voice that may indicate deception. It works by analyzing the frequency and amplitude of an individual’s voice. However, there is controversy surrounding the effectiveness of this technique, and it is not widely used.
  4. Psychological Evaluation: In addition to the physiological testing, administrators may also evaluate an individual’s psychological state. This can include assessing their level of anxiety or stress, as well as their motivation for passing the test.
  5. Follow-up questions: If the administrator detects any potential countermeasures during the test, they may ask follow-up questions to try to elicit a more honest response from the subject. For example, if the subject’s physiological response to a relevant question is suspiciously low, the administrator may ask a follow-up question that is designed to elicit a stronger response.
  6. Follow-up interviews: After administering the test, examiners may conduct follow-up interviews with the examinee to clarify any discrepancies or inconsistencies in the test results. These interviews can help examiners identify any countermeasures used by the examinee.


Beating the lie detector test: Our practical-based insights

Due to the various opinions, tricks, and tips available online from so many sources, it is difficult to determine whether any of them will work for you, especially since there are no guarantees that your examiner will be seasoned, that your strategy will be successful, or that you will not need to retake the exam after deciding to implement any of these.

You may be wondering if you can train yourself at home to beat the exam or hire someone to assist you in doing so. Our experience has shown us that it is nearly impossible to beat the polygraph unless you have had substantial training (years) to do so, and even so, your chances might be very slim. This is due to one major fact: the authenticity of your physiological responses. The polygraph’s machine algorithm and the examiner observing the results are highly experienced at recognizing unusual physiological recordings; this is due to a combination of machine learning (with thousands of previous examinees) and human experience. So, basically, to beat a polygraph, you have to beat the machine’s experience and the examiner’s experience altogether, which, as mentioned, is close to impossible.

In trying to do so, you will most likely:

  • Get a PNC (purposely non-cooperative) result, which will affect your application process or interrogation negatively.
  • You will receive an “inconclusive” result, but will probably be asked to return and retake another polygraph exam.


While we specialize in incorrect result appeals and offer counseling services in an effort to improve test accuracy, we do not provide test-beating instruction. We welcome you to get in touch with us to get appropriate support from our professionals.

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