Validity of the Control Question Polygraph Test: The Problem of Sampling Bias

Christopher J. Patrick, William G Iacono

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Sampling bias is a potential problem in polygraph validity studies in which posttest confessions are used to establish ground truth because this criterion is not independent of the polygraph test. In the present study, criterion evidence was sought from polygraph office records and from independent police files for all 402 control question tests (CQTs) conducted during a 5-year period by federal police examiners in a major Canadian city. Based on blind scoring of the charts, the hit rate for criterion innocent subjects (65% of whom were verified by independent sources) was 55%; for guilty subjects (of whom only 2% were verified independently), the hit rate was 98%. Although the estimate for innocent subjects is tenable given the characteristics of the sample on which it is based, the estimate for the guilty subsample is not. Some alternatives to confession studies for evaluating the accuracy of the CQT with guilty subjects are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)229-238
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Applied Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1991

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