Lie detection


From Polygraph to Brain Scan

Copyright: Monika Weissensteiner



Bettina Paul






Larissa Fischer




  1. From 25 to 26 April 2019 the team will participate in the workshop "Truth Practices" at the University of Erfurt.

Key Project Information

  1. Duration: 2017 - 2020
  2. Sponsor: German Research Foundation (DFG)
  3. Project lead: Prof. Dr. Torsten H. Voigt

Continuous attractivity and sociotechnical reconfiguration of lie detection




The verification a person’s statements to gain knowledge about what s/he has said or done is both a historical and a contemporary societal demand. Scientific-technological procedures which meet these desires are commonly referred to as lie detection. The most prominent artefact in this context is the polygraph, which was developed in the 1920’s and promised a new quality of lie detection. The validity of the polygraph and similar procedures was continuously challenged but despite this ongoing critique, its use in Germany was never entirely abandoned. Currently, some commentators even postulate their renaissance. This impression is being confirmed by the latest emergence of brain image-based methods of lie detection. Especially in forensic discourses, they are seen as highly potential as they promise to enable a more valid detection of deception because of their neuroscientific based procedures. These claims initiated a new debate about the reliability of lie detection in the context of criminal and civil trials. Regardless of the undeniable societal relevance and importance of this topic, there are no empirical studies for the German context that analyze in which societal realms lie detection practices are actually conducted, in which concrete contexts of actions they are being executed and which expectations and promises are connected to their use. To date, no systematic, sociological analysis of lie detection and its usage in different contexts in Germany exits which is especially true for its sociotechnical contextualisation.
This project will provide the first comprehensive overview and analysis of lie detection practices in Germany. It will reconstruct the history of lie detection and its contemporary areas of application in Germany. Furthermore, embedded in the research programme of technography, the project aims at studying which specific expectations are associated with these devices in the different contexts of application and what role the used instruments play concerning their technological-material peculiarity. Finally, the project will analyse which reciprocity between the old polygraphic procedures and the new brain image-based technologies of lie detection can be found, in what ways both legitimate or discredit each other, to be able to reveal current and emerging developments. In general, the project contributes to the analysis of biotechnological innovations und the referring societal implications and to the empirical reconstruction of sociotechnical contexts of interaction.


Project Publications

Egbert, S., Paul, B. (2016): Devices of lie detection as diegetic technologies in the ‘war on terror’. In: Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society, online first, doi: 10.1177/0270467616634162.

Heinemann, T. (2016): Die neurowissenschaftliche Suche nach dem Bösen. In: psychosozial, 39, 144, 10-25.

Heinemann, T. (2014): Gefährliche Gehirne: Verdachtsgewinnung mittels neurobiologischer Risi­koanalysen. In: Kriminologisches Journal 46, 3, 184-198.

Paul, B., Egbert, S. (2014): Lügendetektion per Neuroimaging – Visuelle Verdachtstechnologien als soziotechnische Ensembles. In: Kriminologisches Journal 46, 3, 153-167.

Heinemann, T. (2012): Populäre Wissenschaft: Hirnforschung zwischen Labor und Talkshow. Göttingen: Wallstein.