Polygraph — A Way to Open Up

Our polygraph allows our boys to put down their walls in order to completely and honestly open up about their past mistakes, and help them move out of the shame that allows continued secrecy. This puts everyone on the same page and creates a foundation for further conversations between each boy and their therapist. Our polygraph gives our boys an opportunity to own up to their actions and acknowledge that they need help. This is the first step towards change and healing.

What is a Polygraph?

To understand what a polygraph is, it’s first important to understand what it is not. A polygraph is not a lie detector machine, as social stigma may exhibit. Our polygraph does not identify arousal patterns through fight, freeze, or flight responses (e.g. threat of punishment, consequences of being caught lying). It also does not work through anxiety or conditioned responses. These notions are outdated and irrelevant to modern polygraph science.


Our polygraph, instead, is a recording instrument. It helps us assess memory and attention. We use orienting response (OR), which is a person’s immediate response to a change in their environment, to study novel or important stimuli. This kind of stimuli connects with experiences in autobiographical memory, emotional salience, and the increased cognitive processing that comes from lying. It takes more cognitive activity to lie than to tell the truth because one has to construct a narrative. The polygraph detects this collection of underlying neural processes that increases autonomic arousal. Polygraphs, essentially, analyze the strength of attention as determined by autonomic arousal. The purpose of our polygraph is not about catching students in a lie, but to catch them telling the truth.

Creating a Foundation for Communication

Without the polygraph, shame and fear will often keep boys from telling the whole truth. A misconception that many have is that the polygraph will often cause more shame for the person taking the polygraph, yet when it is facilitated correctly, the polygraph can help a person move out of shame. When boys don’t share the whole truth, it hinders our ability to help them and their ability to overcome their problems. With our polygraph, we can get to the root of the problem and create an open, honest dialogue that can continue throughout their therapy. We can help the boys we work with start to heal and have hope for second chance and better future.