Test Issues

Screening or Exploratory Exams vs. Diagnostic Exams.

An exploratory or screening test is a test done when there is an absence of a known issue or when there is a lack of clarity as to what issue among many may be targeted to best help with the decision that has to be made.  

One form of screening or exploratory test is the undisclosed victims test; that is, there is no specific information available regarding the test subject’s behavior that can be independently verified as factual or well-founded.  There is no specific incident that can be identified.  There is no case or case facts. There is no specific allegation that has been made.  There is nothing tangible that would identify the test subject as a suspect in a particular behavioral act apart from the fact that he/she has had a known allegation raised against them in regard to this behavior in the past.  The target issue (undisclosed victims) in an exploratory test is not the kind of issue that a diagnostic call (Deception Indicated, No Deception Indicated, or Inconclusive) can be made on.  The test results on an exploratory test are much more tentative in nature, and as a result, they should be reported as Significant Reactions, No Significant Reactions, or Inconclusive.  In other words, the call made on the reactions recorded to test questions relating to the target issue would be in terms such as "were characteristic of lying or of deliberately concealing pertinent information", "were characteristic of truthfulness", "were not consistent enough to give any clear indication of truthfulness or lying."   In practice, it is not uncommon to find diagnostic calls being made on undisclosed victims tests.  Mr. Podoll has come to prefer not to make a diagnostic call on any exploratory test because it would be difficult to justify this in view of available research data.

Another form of screening test is the multiple issue test where there is a lack of clarity as to what issue among many may be targeted to best help with the decision at hand.

Single Issue Test vs. Multiple Issue Tests

Polygraph testing is most accurate when there is the attempt to resolve but one single issue on any given test.  What happens when there is an effort to resolve multiple issues is this: There is, if you will, only a limited amount of physiological responsiveness that a test subject has at their disposal.  It this limited amount of responsiveness is to be spread around between multiple competing target issues, it is not going to spread evenly or equally.  What occurs is that a significant level of responsiveness will typically only be allotted to the target issue that the subject perceives as posing the greatest threat to his/her safety/security if he/she is caught lying on it. A lesser amount of responsiveness will be seen to questions that pose a lesser threat. What can happen is that a subject may be lying to questions on all of the issues targeted, but only show a significant level of physiological responsiveness to but one.  In practice, standards dictate that, when only one target generates a significant level of reactions, the finding on other target issues should to be reported as Inconclusive.   To make a diagnostic call – Deception Indicated, No Deception Indicated, or Inconclusive – on any of the issues targeted in a multiple-issue test, a single-issue test will have to be done anyway. 

The multiple issue test is an exploratory test.  Its findings are tentative. Mr. Podoll’s preference would be to perform a single-issue test on one issue that has the best chance of being important to the case in the attorney’s view and in the view of the test subject.  This is the kind of test on which a diagnostic call – Deception Indicated, No Deception Indicated, or Inconclusive – can be made.  The multiple-issue exploratory test should be used when no one issue stands out as being most important.  This should be a fairly rare circumstance.

What about Fantasies During Masturbation?

Mr. Podoll is of the opinion that masturbatory fantasies are a poor target issue for the following reasons:

  1. Questions of this nature do not exclusively encompass concrete observable behavior, but also have in view an internal non-observable mental process – fantasizing.  “Offering opinions about truth or deception to issues of fantasy, plans or intentions, motivations or desires, are generally not acceptable”. (Robert G. Lundell in the article “Sex offender Testing: Still Basic Polygraph” in Polygraph Vol. 29; 2000 Number 1; p. 40).  
  2. It is doubtful that any subject can know with the kind of certainty needed in a polygraph examination what they were thinking at some moment in the past.  As a result, a false negative finding is probably as likely as a false positive finding.
  3. The store of mental imagery to be taken into consideration by the subject in responding to questions of this nature is presumably vast, and it would be reasonable to expect that inventorying this material would require that the test subject engage in significant mental exercise or effort.  Research has shown that mental exercise can generate an autonomic arousal which would be indistinguishable from deception (C.D. Lee 1953; F Boiten 1993; S. Bongard, J.S. Pfeiffer, M. Al’Absi, V. Hodapp, and G. Linnenkemper 1997; D.S. Fokkema 1999; A Winzer, C. Ring, D. Carroll, G. Willemsen, M. Drayson, M. Kendall 1999; C. Ring, D. Carroll, G. Willemsen, J. Cooke, A. Ferraro, M. Drayson 1999).
  4. Mr. Podoll knows of no research that would support the use of such questions.  The research that Mr. Podoll has seen employs questions about target issues that have reference in the real, tactile world.

What to Target for Clients Charged with an Offense Relating to Child Pornography?

It is not uncommon for evaluators to want to know whether a client has been masturbating while fantasizing about having sexual contact with children.  It is easy to understand why this issue would be of interest to evaluators, but as noted in the section immediately above, masturbatory fantasies are considered to be a poor target issue.  Mr. Podoll believes that the most appropriate issue to target is whether the person has ever had sexual contact with a child.. An alternative issue of lesser importance would be whether or not the person being evaluated has masturbated to images of individuals the authorities would readily identify as child pornography.  

Another related issue would be whether the test subject has taken one of any of a number of intermediate steps that would bring them closer to having sexual contact with a child.  

To inform evaluators of the test protocol Mr. Podoll uses, he will, upon request, provide examples of his reports in which testing was done on these issues. These report examples will also note how Mr. Podoll operationally defines with the client important terms such as “sexual contact”, “sexual arousal”, “child pornography”, etc.

These report examples will only be provided to attorneys, Certified Sex Offender Treatment Providers (CSOTP) or licensed psychologists.