Mastering the Costanza: Eight Steps to Beating a Lie Detector

By JR Raphael
Contributing Writer, [GAS]

Ah, the mystery of the lie detector. Can it really be beaten? George Constanza said trying to learn would be like asking Pavarotti to teach you his tricks. Well, grab your microphone and get ready. It’s time for you to hit the stage.

The basics

To beat a polygraph, you first have to understand how it works. The machine basically just monitors your body for changes. You wear devices that measure your heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing. An administrator asks you a series of questions, starting with “controls.” These are used to figure your body’s baseline reaction when you aren’t hiding anything. He’ll mix these in with the “relevants,” or questions related to the actual investigation. Understanding the difference is the most important step in learning to beat the machine.

Controlling the controls

A control will ask you something general that’s unrelated to the matter at hand. It’ll be broadly focused and often about a subject that causes discomfort. For example, have you ever lied to a loved one? Have you ever cheated on an exam, or stolen from an employer?

The real key to beating the lie detector is controlling your reaction to these controls. You need to produce a stronger physiological response to these questions than to the actual relevant ones. Here’s how:

  • Maintain a calm and regular breathing rate. You want to be hitting about 15 to 30 shallow breaths in and out per minute, so about three seconds per inhale or exhale.
  • When you recognize a control, immediately change that rate. The easiest way is to hold your breath once, for five seconds, after exhaling.
  • At the same time, increase your heart rate and blood pressure. You can do this by performing mental arithmetic — doing complex division in your head, trying to count backwards by sevens — or by biting slowly on the side of your tongue, hard enough to produce moderate pain. Either will work, but make sure you’ve practiced plenty so it’s not noticeable.

Relaxing on the relevants

The second part of the equation happens with the relevant questions — the ones actually going after the information they need. All you have to do when faced with these is maintain the calm and regular breathing rate you learned, and remember that you are in control. Even if your body produces a slight nervous response, it won’t be nearly as high as the excited response you created.

Passing the other tests

So you’ve mastered the polygraph itself. Now you just to make sure you pass the other subtle tests that start the minute you walk in the door. Your administrator will be watching your every move, and it’s not just the machine that can lead you to trouble.

  • Make no admissions. Regardless of what the polygraph shows, everything you say is being recorded. Don’t say anything you’ll regret.
  • Keep your answers short. Administrators are trained to watch for extra words and rambling replies. Stick to simple yes-no answers as often as possible.
  • When answering questions, stay still. Don’t change positions or shake your head, and don’t hesitate before speaking.
  • Remember that you’re always being watched. Don’t do anything that could raise suspicion. Even if you’re in a room alone — bathroom included — odds are they’re taking notes.

George Costanza said it best: It’s not a lie if you believe it. Take these tips to heart and practice them until they become second nature. Then you too will have what it takes to beat a lie detector.