What if we had the use of a reliable, scientifically trustworthy lie detector test for determining who is telling the truth in employment disputes and litigation?
It’s possible that the field of neuroscience someday will provide a test for doing so.
The fMRI test
Clay Rawlings and Rob Bencini, writing in the current issue of The Futurist magazine published by the World Future Society, explore potential applications of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) tests for the purpose of detecting lies in legal proceedings:
Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)—a technique for measuring and mapping brain activity—allows psychologists to observe the brain as it functions in real time. Two companies, No Lie MRI Inc. and Cephos Corporation, claim that they can use fMRI to determine conclusively whether or not an individual is telling the truth.
…This methodology should be foolproof: You either have a real memory, or you do not. If your answer is based in fantasy rather than memory, it is almost certainly a lie.
…At some point, this technology may replace random groups of 12 jurors as the “finders of fact.” We will know with certainty whether someone is telling the truth.
…If technology can tell us with scientific certainty whether a person is telling the truth, why not place a scanner above the witness stand? As witnesses testify, the court will be able to see in real time whether or not the testimony is true.
Applying the fMRI to employment disputes
I’ve written about how the tools of neuroscience can be used to measure post-traumatic stress disorder. For targets of workplace bullying and harassment, someday this test might be utilized to prove damages due to abusive conduct.
Perhaps the fMRI could play a similarly useful role in assessing truth telling in employment disputes, including those that have led to litigation.
Imagine a test that sorts truth from fiction when allegations of bullying, sexual harassment, and other forms of worker misconduct arise. For targets of these behaviors who have had the exasperating, painful experience of being ignored or regarded dismissively, this could be a way of getting to the heart of the matter.
Caution (lots of it)
But let’s not get carried away. Even putting aside expenses, we’re a long way from proclaiming the fMRI test as being sufficiently foolproof for routine use.
We have an excellent example of why caution is advisable: The most commonly recognized electronic “lie detector test” is the polygraph machine, which has a long history of usage in law enforcement settings. Furthermore, until the late 1980s, it was a popular pre-employment screening mechanism for prospective employees.
However, polygraph evidence has never been admissible in criminal proceedings, due to ongoing concerns about its reliability. Furthermore, after the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment raised severe doubts about the polygraph’s reliability as employee screening tool, Congress banned this use through the Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988.
Therefore, we should regard the fMRI, or any other scientific test, with reasonable skepticism. Can it detect the lies of a psychopath? Will it falsely identify honest statements as being untrue? These are among the questions that must be answered.
For targets of workplace abuse, a genuine lie detector test may seem like a panacea. We’re not there yet, but perhaps someday scientific technology will deliver a solution.