Dr Rajiv Desai

An Educational Blog





When you read a newspaper or watch television, you find that the media always talk about Hollywood icon Marilyn Monroe who died childless in the year 1962 but nobody in media talks about her only real son who lives in India in oblivion for last 5 decades. How can so many educated & cultured, editors & anchors lie to the people everyday? Why should they lie?  My ex-wife was lying before police, court and media. Why?  Police questions suspects, accused and witnesses to elicit the truth but the truth is that all criminals always lie during interrogation and even after conviction by court of law; criminals say that they are innocent and framed by state. When an accused in police custody is brought to me for chest pain, I think about heart problem but the investigating officer believes that the accused is lying to escape from the misery of police custody to the comfort of hospital bed. Recently, Indian Supreme Court held that it is unconstitutional to do narcoanalysis, brain mapping and lie detector test on suspects without their consent as it is violative of fundamental rights of every accused, not to incriminate himself and not to breach his privacy under umbrella of right to personal liberty. Former American president Bill Clinton was lying to the world when he said on TV that he did not have sex with Monica Lewinsky until Monica brought her cloths soaked with the semen of the president and DNA analysis caught the lie of the president.


The other meaning of English word ‘lie’ namely; to be or place oneself in a prostrate or recumbent position, recline, repose, stretch (out) or to have an inherent basis: consist, dwell, exist, inhere, repose, reside, rest etc will not be discussed by me.


Lie means deliberate act of deviation from truth, intentionally communicated, in order to deceive/ mislead/ misrepresent/ conceal or falsify either information or fact or event, in the mind of recipient. However, patients who communicate false information in the context of a range of psychiatric states, such as when they are confabulating, have delusional memory, or are demented, are not lying because they are not deliberately misleading us. Lie is to state something that one knows to be false or that one does not honestly believe to be true with the intention that a person will take it for the truth. Also, if a true statement is intentionally used to deceive, then, viewing a larger picture, it would be a lie. Once a lie has been told, there can be two alternative consequences: it may be discovered or remain undiscovered. However, if a lie is repeated hundreds of times, it almost becomes truth and media is a classical example of repeated lying to invent truth, not the real truth but the deceptive truth.

Everybody lies but if a person does not know the truth, he cannot be charged with lying. Bill Clinton said that he did not volunteer to tell the truth during Lewinsky affair, is that lying? Does hiding truth amount to lying? Does telling part truth and not whole truth amount to lying? Does taking an oath in a court of law guarantees that person will not lie? Does filing an affidavit in court means that person is not lying? Is there is a lot of grey area between truth and lie? Is it possible that a truth for somebody becomes a lie for another? 

The only way to prove lying is to present with objective evidence to the contrary of a lie. For example, a liar says that he has no money but his bank account shows millions in it.There is nothing like noble-lie no matter whatever is your intention and if the truth is so unpalatable, then, better be silent. Also, noble-lie cannot be used as an excuse for perpetuating falsehood & prevarication. Lies differ in type, incidence, magnitude and consequence, with many gradations of severity, from harmless exaggeration and embellishment of stories, to intentional and habitual deceit.


St. Augustine had written and divided lies into eight categories and listed in order of descending severity in the year at about A.D.395.

Lies in religious teaching.

Lies that harm others and help no one.

Lies that harm others and help someone.

Lies told for the pleasure of lying.

Lies told to please others in smooth discourse.

Lies that harm no one and that help someone.

Lies that harm no one and that save someone’s life.

Lies that harm no one and that save someone’s ‘purity’.


Behavioral scientist Wendy Gamble identified four basic types of lies for a University of Arizona study in the year 2000.

Prosocial: Lying to protect someone, to benefit or help others.

Self-enhancement: Lying to save face, to avoid embarrassment, disapproval or punishment.

Selfish: Lying to protect the self at the expense of another, and/or to conceal a misdeed.

Antisocial: Lying to hurt someone else intentionally. 


The capacity to lie has also been claimed to be possessed by other species including apes, wolves and birds. Some believes that lying (and other deceptive traits as well) are deeply embedded in our subconscious as a result of evolution. This means simply that our many ancestors who survived by lying (and doing deceptive things) passed on stronger and stronger genes in each generation for this talent. The ancestors who did not have the knack to lie and deceive died off. Thus, according to some, evolution produced the best liars and deceivers. You need intelligence and imagination to lie and therefore mentally retarded humans can not lie. Even though we are in the year 2010, we still have only a limited understanding of the structures and mechanisms operating the brain when a person is lying.

I have already proved through my articles on ‘Dengue’ and ‘Sex Education’ that erroneous studies produce erroneous statistical findings which can mislead people and therefore will be classified as statistical lies. The entire medical fraternity is full of statistical lies and pharmaceutical companies exploit statistical lies to sell various drugs in the hope of curing illness. Statistics show that 83 % of all statistics are lies. Mark Twain said in his autobiography that there are ‘lies, damned lies, and statistics’  meaning the persuasive power of numbers, particularly the use of statistics to bolster weak arguments, and the tendency of people to disparage statistics that do not support their positions. While the numbers may mathematically provide a figure of great precision, the nature of the study leaves a margin of error of several percentage points – just like those public opinion polls in the press and on TV.  Statistics are often used to lie to the public because most people do not understand how statistics work. The most important thing for the people is to check for the sample size and margin of error. It is often the case that with small samples that a change in one data item can completely change the results. Generally the bigger the sample size, the more accurate the results are and the less likely a single error in sampling will affect the analysis. The main problem with statistics is that people like favourable numbers to back up a decision.

Fundamental to the mathematics of probability is the requirement for conditional probabilities to be independent of each other, such as dice rolls or coin flips. If they are not independent, the mathematics stops working and the answers stop making sense. However, a lot of statistics are worked out at a distance from independence of conditional probabilities so that the validity of statistical result is questionable. I will prove with a classical example. When you toss a coin in the air, there is a 50 % chance that either ‘heads’ will fall or ‘tails’ will fall. Now, you toss a coin in the air and find that it is ‘heads’. Fine. Statistically speaking, when you toss the coin again, it will be ‘tails’ as previous toss was ‘heads’ but the truth is that another toss may result in ‘heads’ again. This is because every time you toss, there is a 50 % chance of getting either ‘heads’ or ‘tails’ independent of previous toss result. This is a difference between a statistical lie and the truth. ‘How to Lie with Statistics’ is a book written by Darrell Huff in 1954 presenting an illustrated volume outlining common errors, intentional and unintentional, associated with the interpretation of statistics, and how these errors can lead to inaccurate conclusions.     


Lying in children:

Lie-telling abilities emerge as early as 3 years of age and develop rapidly with age. Lying is considered by most child development specialists to be a natural developmental occurrence in childhood. Though there is no empirical data about how children learn to lie, parental honesty is recognized as a primary influence on the development of truthfulness in children. Making up stories is part of a normal fantasy life for young children. It is a positive sign of developing intelligence and of an active and healthy imagination. Although we think of truthfulness as a young child’s paramount virtue, it turns out that lying is the more advanced skill. A child who is going to lie must recognize the truth, intellectually conceive of an alternate reality, and be able to convincingly sell that new reality to someone else. Therefore, lying demands both advanced cognitive development and social skills that honesty simply doesn’t require. A study found that as many as 65 percent of the children in that study had learned to lie by age two and half year and it also reveals a correlation between higher IQ and the incidence of lying in children.In studies where children are observed in their natural environment, a 4-year-old will lie once every two hours, while a 6-year-old will lie about once every hour and a half. Few kids are exceptions. Many children are socialized by their parents at a very early age to tell ‘white lies’ to avoid hurting another’s feelings. Children from age five or six have learned the difference between lies and truth. By age seven, children have developed the ability to convincingly sustain a lie. If a child’s lying is accompanied by fighting, cheating, stealing, cruelty, and other impulse control problems, appropriate intervention is required. Adolescents do lie due to conflict between parental/teachers control versus personal autonomy or to cover up illicit drug or alcohol abuse. A discerning parent/teacher will attempt to discover the motive behind the lie among the adolescents.

I remember that when I was in 5th standard, I used to tell stories in my class which were full of fiction and imagination and it was liked by all classmates and the teacher. Even though I was not telling the truth, the intention was to pass time happily in free-period and not deception.

Why children lie?

1)      to maintain parental approval

2)      to escape from responsibility

3)      to evade consequences of misbehavior

4)      to gain attention

5)      to avoid disappointing others (white lie)

6)      to break parental control

7)      to protect oneself from harm

8)      to desire to have one’s own way

9)      to impress others

10)   to boost self-esteem

11)   to protect others

12)   to get something which they want

13)   copying parent’s lies.

14)   fear from very strict parents who set too many rules and punishment for breaking rules.      


How do parents know that their child is lying? A child up to the age of ten years is basically innocent even though lying and therefore a lie can be caught by looking at the facial expressions, inconsistency in statement and lack of spontaneity. They do not lie to intentionally cause harm to anyone, but they lie purely for themselves without much realizing the consequences. Parents should teach children that that lying is dishonest, and there are often negative consequences for lying and there are benefits of telling the truth including becoming trust-worthy of people. Parents should ensure that lying is not rewarded and in fact may result in punishment. Parents must not shame a child for lying nor corner a child for lying. Best options for parents is to find out why their child is lying and then look for solution, for example, if the child was lying to boost self-esteem, then, parents can themselves boost the self-esteem of child.


Why people lie?

A study found that in a 10 minute conversation, the average person lies three times. Another study, published in the Journal of Basic and Applied Psychology, found that 60 percent of people had lied at least once during the 10-minute conversation, saying an average of 2.92 inaccurate things. Lying is common, and in its many aspects forms a normal part of social interchange. Men lie no more than women, but they tend to lie to make themselves feel better, while women are more likely to lie to make the other person feel better.

There is no specific predilection for lying by a particular race/ caste/ religion but it has been observed repeatedly that when a prominent member of a race/ religion is accused of lying, the people belonging to his race/ religion do say that he is not lying. The classical example is of American football star O.J.Simpson where by the end of the criminal trial, various national surveys showed dramatic differences between most blacks and most whites in terms of their assessment of Simpson’s guilt. Blacks felt that Simpson was telling truth and whites felt that Simpson was lying. Interestingly, Simpson was acquitted in criminal trial for murder but found guilty in civil suit causing wrongful death. It would mean that criminal trial need far more evidence than civil suit. It would also mean that the jury having majority black members in that criminal trial felt that Simpson is telling the truth while the jury having majority white members in that civil suit felt that Simpson is lying.

Lying cuts across cultures and may be part of normal development and individuation. People are critical of lies, unless the lies are their own. Where do we place politicians who consistently promise voters things they cannot deliver? What about the advertisers who hide significant information about their products in the “fine print”? What about a smooth liar who compulsively seduces women, but rarely exposed?  They just lie, and repeating it to everyone till everybody eventually ends up believing the lie!!!

‘The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.’ These words of the oath are of interest, not only because of their tacit recognition that people lie, but also because of their acknowledgment that “truth” is multifaceted. Interesting to note that great democracies America & India are highly litigious countries with plenty of frivolous cases due to lying but Americans use laws to settle the dispute while Indians use laws to perpetuate dispute, notwithstanding the fact that the more you lie, the more litigious you become. In the realm of more overt and straightforward lies, people tell untruths in a range of ways and for a variety of reasons. Lies may be big or small, as we tell to smoothen normal social intercourse (“yes, of course that dress looks good on you”). Some are intended to achieve specific aims—to avoid getting into trouble for being somewhere one was not supposed to be or doing something one was not supposed to do, to sell a product (or oneself), or to impress—while others seem without purpose, designed simply to deceive. Lies can be altruistic (a 1989 study of American doctors found that over 80% would lie if it were in the interest of their patients), or expedient. Lies may be obvious, or they may be subtle. And of course, some people lie more than others. Kashy and DePaulo suggest that those who tell more lies are more manipulative, more concerned with self-presentation, and more sociable, but less socialized.


So the reasons why people lie are as follows.

1)      to escape from perceived punishment.

2)      seeing other liars getting away.

3)      to get  things which they want.

4)      habitual or compulsive lying in some cases where lying becomes second nature.

5)      lack of courage, lack of problem-solving skills & lack of the ability to properly handle unexpected event as lying is an option that will definitely be considered as the easier way out.

6)      seeking attention, some people choose to lie; lacking self confidence or overlooked by peers, they usually make up stories and thus gaining some of the lost attention.

7)      people may also lie to get some incentive or benefit, like lying on their resumes or in job interview.

8)      lying in relationships are divided to two categories; ones who lie hoping to rescue the relationship while the second do so to cover up for their actions.

9)      many reasons why children lie are applicable for adults also.               


Pathological lying (compulsive lying):

Pathological lying is an uncommon disorder characterized by telling of untruths about matters which perhaps could be easily verified and which untruths may serve no obvious purpose either in the personality of the individual or in the situation in which he/she finds himself/herself.  The diagnosis is made when the lying is persistent, pervasive, disproportionate, and not motivated primarily by reward or other external factors. A key characteristic of pathological lying may be its compulsive nature, with pathological liars “unable to control their lying,” although another term that can be used is “impulsive.” In addition,  some evidence show that a pathological liar may be unaware that he/she is lying, other evidence show that when challenged, the pathological liar admits to at least a partial recognition of his or her lies. A study found that pathological lying is associated with reduced regional cerebral blood flow as demonstrated by single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) where decreased activity of right hemithalamus may be responsible for tendency to lie impulsively. Another study using structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of brain found that pathological liars had increased prefrontal white matter volumes and reduced grey/white ratios compared with normal controls.


Deception detection (how to detect lies):

A) With the help of body language.

B) With the help of technology/ drugs/ psychologist/ hypnotherapists etc.


A) Deception detection with the help of body language:

The study of the accused/suspect by his/her eyes, face, speech, movements, sweating etc can help detect lies.


1)  In the field of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), they use the phenomenon of eye-accessing cues to help recognize patterns of thinking. By the direction of where the person’s eyes are looking, you can determine whether they are using vision, sound or kinesthetic (feeling) to trigger their thinking. Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) by John Grinder and Richard Bandler found that when asked a question, a normally “organized person” tends to repeat the same eye directions in association with the same emotion.  


If this represents a right handed suspect being questioned, then, when he looks up and to his right, he will be accessing a visual memory. Up and to his left means that he is visually constructing (imagining) something. To his right, he is remembering a sound, to his left; he will be creating a sound. Down and to his left, the person is accessing a smell, taste or feeling.  Down and his right, he is accessing inner dialog (talking to himself). If for example, you were asking your child where he got the candy bar, and he looks to his ‘constructing’ side (his left side), then you can be sure he is fabricating the story. Keep in mind that this is reversed for left-dominant people (left handed). So before you can use this, be aware of which of their sides is the dominant one.

Remember, left brain control eye movement to right side and vice versa.  If suspect’s eyes shift to his right, he is using the left part of the brain (logic, detail, words, present n past, acknowledgement, reality based) which is more truthful. Glancing to his left means he is using the right side of the brain (creativeness, imaginative, fantasy based, risk taking, spatial perception, present possibilities, impetuousness) which could mean making up little things while lying. Remember, looking to right means recall( truth) and looking to left means reconstruction (lies) in a right handed person and it is reversed in left handed person.

2) Micro-expressions are split second facial expressions that flash on a person’s face for a less than a 25th of a second and reveal the person’s true emotion underneath their façade. While an innocent person would go on the offensive (usually responding with anger, which will usually be revealed in a micro-expression directly after you say you don’t believe them), a guilty person will often go immediately on the defensive (usually by saying something to reassure their facts, such as deflections). When people lie, they try to hide the fact through altering their voluntary facial expressions (macro expressions) and body language to appear in harmony with their words. Because of this, the face will hold accurate as well as misleading information. Deception will most always show up in the face as an inconsistency between the micro and macro expressions. Micro-expressions are almost impossible to catch with the naked eye. Slow motion video playback, yes, can catch micro-expressions.

3)  A person who is lying to you will avoid making eye contact.

4) Physical expression of a liar will be limited and stiff, with few arm and hand movements. Hand, arm and leg movement are toward their own body. His hands touching his face, throat & mouth and touching/ scratching the nose or behind their ear.

5)  The display of emotion on a liar is delayed, stays longer than it would naturally, and then stops suddenly. Timing is off between emotions gestures/expressions and words.

6) Gestures/expressions don’t match the verbal statement. Expressions are limited to mouth movements when someone is faking emotions (like happy, surprised, sad, awe) instead of the whole face.

7) Liar using/repeating your own exact words when answering a question.

8) Attempting to justify every detail with lengthy explanations is a sign of lying. Also, the liar uses (and particularly overuses) language like “honestly,” “believe me,” “to tell the truth,” etc. this is almost certainly being deceptive.

9) Illustrators are a sign of telling the truth, this is when you are using your hand gestures to talk. Moving your hands while you are talking is a sign of telling the truth. However, excessive gestures are important body language signs indicating lies. In a subconscious effort to enhance believability, a liar will promote his/her words with unnaturally pronounced gesturing

10) Usually when people are lying, they will tell stories that are true but are deliberately aimed at not answering the question you asked.

11) Voice is higher pitched or a lot of stammering (umm, ah), or throat clearing could indicate a lie.

12)  The guilty wants the subject changed; an innocent person may be confused by the sudden change in topics and will want to back to the previous subject, a liar will be happy and relaxed to know subject changed.

13) Untrue answers to questions are slightly delayed due to lack of spontaneity. To tell the truth, it takes two parts of your brain at most, however, a lie takes six parts of your brain.

14)  Making statements that contradict each other, are inconsistent or don’t sound quite right are usually part of a lie.

15) If suspects act nervous or uncomfortable or sweating, it could mean they’re telling a lie. Also watch out for blushing (or becoming pale) and increased blinking.

16) A liar is uncomfortable facing his questioner/accuser and may turn his head or body away.

17) A guilty person will often try to change the subject using humor or sarcasm.


Many studies have shown that things like eye-avoidance or sweating or hand movements are not infallible and find that none of them reliably indicate a lie. There are no universal signs of lying. However, I am looking at these indicators only statistically, based on a general testing of a group, without relation to any known character traits or habits of the individuals being tested. Most people might as well toss a coin to determine if a person is lying, rather than trust their lie-detecting skills. However, research shows that some people are consistently good at detecting lies.  


B) Deception detection with the help of technology/ drugs/ psychologists/ hypnotherapists etc to detect lies.

It must be emphasized that all scientific evidence must have low error rates, and must have been thoroughly tested, peer-reviewed, and generally accepted by the scientific community.   


Polygraph test:

A polygraph (lie detector) is a computer that measures and records changes in several physiological indices such as blood pressure, pulse, respiration, breathing rhythms/ratios, perspiration (sweating), muscle movements, and skin conductivity while the subject is asked a series of questions, in the belief that deceptive answers (lies) will produce physiological responses that can be differentiated from those associated with non-deceptive answers (truth). The underlying theory of the polygraph is that the lying causes a certain amount of stress that produces changes in several involuntary physiological reactions like heartbeat increases; blood pressure goes up, breathing rhythms change, perspiration increases, etc. When a person takes a polygraph test, four to six sensors are attached to him which carry signals from the subject’s body to the polygraph machine to be recorded on a strip of moving paper. Throughout questioning, all of the person’s signals are recorded on the moving paper. During questioning, a significant change (such as a faster heart rate, higher blood pressure, increased perspiration) indicates that the person is lying. When a subject fails polygraph test (positive test) means that he is probably lying and when a subject passes polygraph test (negative test) means he is probably telling truth. False positive test means innocent subject is labeled as a liar and false negative test means a liar is labeled as innocent subject. Even if the polygraph test’s success rate is 95 %, still, many positive tests would be false positive. This violates the basic principle of criminal justice system which states that no innocent person should be convicted no matter how many criminals are acquitted. Polygraph test result is not acceptable as evidence in Indian courts but American courts accepts test result as an additional opinion to help jury reach verdict in a criminal trial at the discretion of a trial court judge. Other uses of polygraph include domestic disputes, infidelity, family disputes and pre-employment screening. There are no known health risks to mother or unborn child associated with polygraph testing during pregnancy.If you are telling the truth, you can pass polygraph test provided you stay calm, cooperate with polygraph administrator and follow all instructions.Nowadays there is also a new sensor device in use  the plethysmograph, which gives a significant indication of changes in the blood oxygen saturation level. Voice stress analysis is usually not part of a lie detector test but can be done along with polygraph.

Polygraph is used in some countries as an interrogation tool with criminal suspects or candidates for sensitive public or private sector employment. Although polygraphy is not 100 percent accurate in identifying either liars or truth-tellers, its accuracy rate is believed to fall within the range of 90 to 95 percent according to its advocates & service providers, sufficient for a study of this nature. The key aspect of the polygraph examination is not, as some believe, that subjects should feel anxious when telling a lie, but rather that they recognize they are lying and that the aim of the examination is not to be caught doing so. The more you fear that you may be caught lying, the greater your physiological reactions will be. If liars regularly “beat” the polygraph, then this would suggest either that they do not perceive themselves to be lying, or that they are particularly good at using countermeasures or they are sociopaths/ pathological liars. Criminals, and especially their lawyers, know the methods for circumventing the test. Also, because the examiner’s interpretation is subjective and because different people react differently to lying, a polygraph test is not perfect and can be fooled.The reason the polygraph is not a lie detector is that what it measures–changes in heartbeat, blood pressure, and respiration etc can be caused by many things including nervousness, anger, sadness, embarrassment, and fear etc which need not be due to lying but due to getting falsely implicated and also, medical conditions like cold, headaches, neurological disorders, muscular problems and constipation can affect various physiological parameters. Polygraphy is widely rejected as pseudoscience by the scientific community. Critics maintain polygraphic method amounts to an inherently unstandardizable interrogation technique whose accuracy cannot be established.  A 1997 survey of 421 psychologists estimated the test’s average accuracy at about 61%, a little better than chance. Polygraph test is not as reliable as the analysis of fingerprints, ballistics, or DNA found at a crime scene. People have tried to use the polygraph for measuring human emotions especially while lying but there is simply no way to measure human emotions. Majority of celebrity spies have passed polygraph examination barring few exceptions and conversely, innocent people have been known to fail polygraph tests. However, it must be noted that people who are raised to tell truth since childhood fail polygraph test when they lie, as compared to,  people who are raised to tell lies since childhood  often pass polygraph test while lying. So a criminal who was brought up in criminal environment since childhood will pass polygraph test while lying but a person who accidentally commits crime and was brought up by a good family will fail polygraph test while lying. So a polygraph test examiner must judge the background of the subject before interpreting results. One of the main reasons why so many government, law enforcement and private sector employers want to use polygraphs is that they think the test will frighten away liars and cheats who are seeking jobs, or it will frighten confessions out of those accused of wrongdoing.

Biggest drawback of conventional polygraphy is a lack of specificity in differentiating guilt from fear or anxiety, and that can contribute to an unacceptably level of false positives. For example, a typical polygraph screening situation might involve a base rate of guilt of one guilty person (e.g., one person engaging in unauthorized disclosure) out of 1,000 employees. Assuming that the polygraph is 95 percent valid, then the one guilty person would be identified as deceptive but so would 50 innocent persons. Even if 99 percent polygraph validity is assumed, there would still be 10 false positives for every correct detection.



Narcoanalysis is a type of psychotherapy during which the subject (accused) is in a relaxed or sleeplike state induced by drugs. The term narco-analysis is derived from the Greek word narke (meaning “anesthesia” or “torpor”) and is used to describe a diagnostic and psychotherapeutic technique that uses psychotropic drugs, particularly barbiturates, to induce a stupor in which mental elements with strong associated affects come to the surface, where they can be exploited by the therapist. Narcoanalysis is a tool which is being used by investigating agencies in criminal cases, as an interrogation technique. Narcoanalysis is based on the principle that a person is able to lie using his imagination and therefore under the influence of the test, the capacity of his imagination is blocked, by leading the person into a semiconscious state and therefore whatever the person says is restricted to the facts that he is aware of. The answers are believed to be spontaneous as a semi-conscious person is unable to manipulate the answers. Narcoanalysis is used when investigators need oral elicitations from a suspect. Narcoanalysis is conducted in a hospital in the presence of a physician and an anesthetist who administers intravenous barbiturate (sodium pentothal) and a clinical psychologist questions the suspect. The dose of barbiturate is dependent on the person’s sex, age, health and physical condition. Wrong dose can send the subject into coma or even result in death. The entire procedure is video-recorded and the subject usually signs a consent form. The drug depresses the central nervous system, lowers blood pressure and slows the heart rate, putting the subject into a hypnotic trance, resulting in a lack of inhibition. During narcoanalysis the tendency is to sleep if not questioned, rather than hallucinating or fantasizing. Scientific skepticism and the absence of controlled studies have not deterred Indian investigating agencies from conducting narcoanalysis in many high profile cases including Mumbai train blasts, Telgi fake stamp paper case and Nithari killing. Studies have shown that persons who make truthful confessions are those who were likely to confess had interrogators persisted in using regular methods, and that persons who lie can continue to manifest a lie even under the influence of a so-called truth serum (barbiturates) during narcoanalysis.

Experts in narcoanalysis attributes a 96 to 97 per cent total success rate to narcoanalysis and included in the definition of total success rate is the discovery of information that either triggers a relevant section of the law or may be cross-verified with other tests (such as brain mapping) or gives an important lead in investigation. However, some experts have stated that even under the best conditions, the barbiturates would elicit an output contaminated by deception, fantasy and garbled speech. Other experts say that under Pentothal narcoanalysis, when inhibitions are lowered, a lot of the unconscious mind of the patient may come to the fore which may make patient say things that he wished were true and not that were necessarily true. Some experts feel that Thiopental sodium will not make the suspect tell everything that is inside him and there is no guarantee that he will tell the truth. 

Statements made under narcoanalysis are not admissible as evidence in the court of law. A confession made by a semi-conscious person is not admissible in court and therefore even though a Narcoanalysis Test report may have some validity but is not admissible in court. The privilege against self incrimination is a fundamental canon of common law criminal jurisprudence. There are 3 characteristic features of this principle namely, the accused is presumed to be innocent, that it is for the prosecution to establish his guilt, and that the accused need not make any statement against his will. Since narcoanalysis involves self-incrimination of the accused by making a statement against himself under semi-conscious state, it violates the fundamental right of the accused not to give evidence against himself. Also, narcoanalysis violates right to privacy (right to remain silent) under the umbrella of right to personal liberty.  However, recoveries or leads in investigation resulting from such ‘drugged interviews’ are admissible as corroborative evidence. For example, a suspect in narcoanalysis may say that he has seen the murder weapon with Mr.XYZ and police during investigation may indeed find murder weapon in the premises of Mr.XYZ and so narcoanalysis helps in solving a crime even though it is not considered as a reliable science. Narcoanalysis provides a simple, non-violent method of finding out the truth in the world where even today, torture is employed in criminal cases to extract information from uncooperative suspect.


Brain mapping test (P 300 test or brain fingerprinting test):

When the brain recognizes a picture or a sound, it generates a particular type of electric wave, which is called P300. The P300 is a positive relative change in neural activity at 300 msec following stimulus onset (response to visual or auditory stimuli). Brain mapping indicates whether a subject’s brain stores experiential knowledge about a certain object. The accused is first interviewed and interrogated to find out whether he is concealing any information. Then sensors are attached to the subject’s head and the person is seated before a computer monitor. He is then shown certain images or made to hear certain sounds. The sensors monitor electrical activity in the brain and register P300 waves, which are generated only if the subject has connection with the stimulus, i.e. picture or sound. The subject is not asked any questions here. Forensic experts use equipment called the ‘neuroscan’ and obtain an EEG (Electro Encephalogram) and ERP (Event Related Potential), both of which are studied to analyze the case.  Brain finger printing test matches information stored in the brain with information from the crime scene. Studies have shown that an innocent suspect’s brain would not have stored or recorded certain information, which an actual perpetrator’s brain would have stored. The experts say that the accuracy rate is 99.99 per cent. In fact, brain mapping is one of the most effective ingredients of forensic sciences these days. In America, it is said the Federal Bureau of Investigation uses brain-mapping tests to convict criminals. Abdul Karim Telgi, the kingpin in the multi-million rupees fake stamp paper scam case in India; tested positive in the P-300 brain-mapping test performed on him. However, brain fingerprinting detects only information and not intention which is very important in sex crimes to know whether alleged victim had given consent for sex. An Indian expert committee which studied the efficacy of brain mapping on criminal suspects in various Indian forensic science laboratories found that several factors came in the way of a dependable and conclusive outcome. For example, body temperature, heart rate and menstrual cycle, induced factors such as exercise, fatigue, drugs & alcohol and constitutional factors such as age, intelligence, gender and personality of the individual -all played a role which needed to be taken into account at the time of test.


Brain Electrical Oscillations Signature test (BEOS):

BEOS is basically an application of electroencephalogram (EEG) in which electrodes are placed on the head to measure electrical waves. The suspect sits in silence, eyes shut. Accused is asked to listen to the probes (short questions) which are recorded in a computer and presented to an accused. The probes would evoke remembrance of the experience that the accused would have had. Such remembrance is accompanied by extensive changes in the electrical oscillation pattern in the brain which is processed by a software. The software tries to detect whether, when the crime’s details are recited, the brain lights up in specific regions — the areas which show measurable changes when experiences are relived, their smells and sounds summoned back to consciousness. During BEOS profiling, experiential knowledge is retrieved from accused’s brain. Experiential knowledge is acquired only through participation in a crime, leading the person to have an experience of that activity. The technique detects and differentiates whether the accused was actually involved in committing a crime or only learnt of it. It helps in the reconstruction of events. Few experts believe it could transform investigations on par with DNA evidence but more studies are required. Both brain mapping and BEOS record time-locked electrical activity from the surface of the brain when the suspect is presented with a picture or specially formulated auditory probes referring to various aspects of the crime being investigated. While in the case of brain mapping, the suspect is interrogated before test regarding specific information but under BEOS, the suspect can remain silent throughout the test. The biggest advantage of BEOS is that the suspect is not coerced to reply, out of force or fear and the brain will react to probes put ahead of him  



Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI):


This image shows average brain regions for 22 subjects during testing. Blue areas represent brain regions more active when telling the truth, red areas, when lying.


Various studies have shown that the prefrontal cortex plays a role in both lying and in antisocial behaviors. It is this part of brain that sits right behind your forehead. When local oxygen demand rises in response to increased electrical activity and metabolism, the inflow of oxygenated haemoglobin causes the fMRI signal emanating from the tissues adjacent to and supplied by a particular blood vessel to increase. This is the basis of BOLD (blood oxygenation level-dependent) functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), a common fMRI approach. The assumption in lie detection is that the brain must exert extra effort when telling a lie and that the regions that do more work get more blood. Such areas light up in scans; during the lie detecting studies. The anterior cingulate, the orbitofrontal cortex, and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex in human brain are involved in high-order decision making, response-inhibition, and go/no-go tasks and a study found that these regions are important for lying in humans using BOLD-fMRI.

fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) measures the blood flow in the brain and unlike a normal MRI, it’s able to track changes real-time. Laboratory studies using fMRI, which measures blood-oxygen levels in the brain, have suggested that when someone lies, the brain sends more blood to the specific area of the prefrontal cortex. Researchers have identified lying in study subjects with accuracy ranging from 76 percent to over 90 percent. fMRI provides independent and scientific validation that someone is telling the truth or lie.  However, many scientists are highly skeptical in fMRI’s ability to detect lies. The fMRI are only as good as the memories of the people who are being scanned, and we know that our memories are fickle and sometimes untrustworthy things. Any potential fMRI ‘lie detector’ technology may be equally as liable to the memory distortions that affect eye witness testimony or other forms of courtroom recall. It means that although such technology could pick up someone who deliberately lies about what they remember, it may not be able to distinguish between someone whose memory had become distorted over time or who has come to believe false information. Also, some researchers questioned the specificity of the lit-up areas; they noted that these regions also correlate with a wide range of cognitive behaviors, including memory, self-monitoring and conscious self-awareness. Also, occasional failure to activate these regions during lying by suspects might highlight alternative regions (circuits) involved in lying, different types of lies, or different beliefs in the task at hand. Also, fMRI, as it is used today, has a major drawback; it measures blood flow, or hemodynamic, which is an indirect measure of neural cell activity. It turns out that hemodynamic basically introduces a delay of five seconds. So fMRI is not able to detect fast variation. Also, on average, a particular brain region within an individual will only be activated about half the time for the very same task. Also, it is uncertain whether statistics on lying obtained from an experiment with normal volunteers in a laboratory would be applicable to a suspect/accused in a criminal trial, who has good reason to lie. Also, assuming that both the sensitivity & specificity of fMRI could be demonstrated to be around 90%—that would still leave 10% of liars testing truthful and 10% of truth-tellers testing as liars.

 fMRI brain scan evidence is yet to be admitted in the court of law for lie detection.


Infrared spectroscopy:

New Scientist pointed out that a patent filed with the World Intellectual Property Organization that proposes detecting lies via near-infrared spectroscopy. Basically, a device would shine near-infrared light through the scalp and skull into certain parts of the brain. Seeing how much light reflects back would indicate oxygenation levels, which vary depending on how active the brain is at a given point and could yield information on the neural pathways underlying the cognitive as well as the emotional aspects of deception. The logic used by infrared spectroscopy is similar to the logic used by fMRI.


Targeted oximetry:

When a standard pulse oximeter is clipped onto a finger of the subject to measure oxygen levels in capillary  blood, it works by transmitting a beam of light through blood vessels in order to measure the absorption of light by oxygenated and deoxygenated haemoglobin. The information allows physicians to know immediately if oxygen levels in the subject’s blood are rising or falling. Because pulse oximeter measures only the blood’s overall oxygen levels, they have no way of monitoring oxygen saturation in a specific region. This is especially problematic in the case of brain injuries, since the brain’s oxygenation can then differ from the rest of the body’s.  The new device uses a technique called ‘ultrasonic light tagging’ to isolate and monitor an area of tissue the size of a sugar cube located between 1 and 2.5 centimeters under the skin. The probe, which rests on the scalp, contains three laser light sources of different wavelengths, a light detector and an ultrasonic emitter. The laser light diffuses through the skull and illuminates the tissue underneath it. The ultrasonic emitter sends highly directional pulses into the tissue. The pulses change the optical properties of the tissue in such a way that they modulate the laser light traveling through the tissue. In effect, the ultrasonic pulses ‘tag’ a specific portion of the tissue to be observed by the detector. Since the speed of the ultrasonic pulses is known, a specific depth can be selected for monitoring. The modulated laser light is picked up by the detector and used to calculate the tissue’s colour. Since colour is directly related to blood oxygen saturation, it can be used to deduce the tissue’s oxygen saturation. The measurement is absolute rather than relative, because colour is an indicator of the spectral absorption of haemoglobin and is unaffected by the scalp. Deeper areas could be illuminated with stronger laser beams, but light intensity has to be kept at levels that will not injure the skin. Given the technology’s current practical depth of 2.5 cm, it is best suited for monitoring the upper layers of the brain. While the technology is designed to monitor a specific area, it could also be used to monitor an entire hemisphere of the brain. Information on oxygenation in specific regions of the brain would be valuable to neurologists monitoring a brain-injured patient especially stroke patients. This technology can allow investigators to know whether the suspect is lying by demonstrating increased blood flow to the specific pre-frontal region of brain as discussed with fMRI scan.


Future attribute screening technology (FAST):

The “Future Attribute Screening Technology” (FAST) scans people as they walk by a set of cameras at airports, train stations or arenas. A passenger’s rapid heart rate and heavy breathing sets off an alarm. A machine senses his skin temperature jumping. Investigators move in to question him. Is he a terrorist? Or is he simply a passenger nervous about flying? The futuristic contraption works on the same theory as a polygraph, looking for sharp swings in body temperature, pulse and breathing that mimic the kind of anxiety exuded by a would-be terrorist or criminal. Those identified by the machines would be interviewed in front of cameras that measure minute facial movements for signs of attempted deception.


Truth wristband:

The Truth Wristband is a wearable device that dynamically reflects the wearer’s psycho-emotional response to the world. The device measures suspect’s galvanic skin response (a marker of emotional arousal commonly used in lie detector tests), measuring micro-changes in sweating on suspect’s hands. The devices lights turn from blue to red as the wearer becomes nervous while lying.


Calcium tracking:

Researchers have found that tracking calcium—a key messenger in the brain—may be a more precise way of measuring neural activity than current imaging techniques (viz, fMRI). When a neuron sends an electrical impulse to another neuron, calcium-specific channels in the neuron’s membrane instantaneously open up, letting calcium flow into the cell. It’s a very dramatic signal change.


Eye scans:

The stress that creates the clues picked up by polygraphs also boosts blood flow in capillaries around the eye. A new application of thermal-imaging technology, called ‘periorbital thermography,’ uses a high-resolution camera to detect temperature changes as small as 0.025°C. Scientists are also developing technology to track and interpret the motion of the eyes. When the eye takes in a series of images of faces, objects or scenes, it spends less time on familiar elements because the brain needs less processing to interpret them.


Facial action coding system (FACS):

Psychologists are busy codifying facial movements into micro expressions called the ‘facial action coding system’ (FACS). FACS is the most promising lie detection technology which is the least technologically dependent. It has turned it into a methodology for teaching people how to link those expressions to a variety of hidden emotions, including intent to deceive. It emphasizes on ‘micro-facial’ expressions such as a tensing of the lips or the raising of the brow — movements that might last just a fraction of a second, but which might represent attempts to hide a subject’s true feelings. It claims that a properly trained observer using these facial cues alone can detect deception with 70% accuracy — and can raise that figure to almost 100% accuracy by also taking into account gestures and body movements. However, differing experts believe that the human face obviously displays emotion but linking those displays to deception is a leap of gigantic dimensions not supported by scientific evidence.  



It is a state of mind that resembles sleep (altered consciousness) but is induced by a person (the hypnotist) whose suggestions and instructions are readily accepted by the subject more than his/her normal state would allow. Scientific knowledge of hypnosis applied to legal problems is called forensic hypnosis. Courts have consistently excluded post-hypnotic testimony on the grounds that it is unreliable. Some people are capable of simulating hypnosis and can lie willfully while in deep hypnosis. Also, it’s hard to distinguish between actual recalls and confabulations (pretend memories). However, when practically all investigative leads have been exhausted, there’s certainly no harm in exploring hypnosis as a potential solution. Recovered memories have been deemed quite reliable by certain experts.


Psychological profile:

As a branch of criminal science, psychological profiling involves investigating a suspect’s behavior, motives and background in an attempt to further guide an investigation. Psychological profile of a pathological liar includes exaggerating things that are ridiculous, one-upping, will not value loyalty, self contradictory and hypochondriac.


Handwriting analysis:

The Sunday Times-London England recently made this statement about handwriting analysis: “A man may lie, simulate, disown himself: a portrait may change or beautify him: a book can lie and so can a letter, but in one thing man is inseparably attached to the innermost truth of his nature–in his handwriting. Handwriting betrays a man, whether he wants it or not, it is unique as his personality and sometimes reveals what he conceals. Although handwriting does not betray everything, it does reveal the essential–the essence of personality, as it were, is given in a tiny abbreviation.”  Many large corporations use handwriting analysis to screen employees, determine promotions, weed out the dishonest and calculate innermost things of key people over at the ‘competition’. Also, many governmental intelligence agencies use handwriting analysis for criminal personality profiling. Handwriting analysis technique is proving time and time again that this art & science can be used to identify deceptive persons. 



The billion dollar question is; can the science of deception detection help to catch terrorists?   

A victim means a person who has suffered harm, including physical or mental injury, emotional suffering, or economic loss through acts or omissions in violation of the criminal laws and where appropriate, it includes the immediate family members or dependent of the direct victims and persons who have suffered harm in intervening to assist victims in distress or to prevent victimization. Let us examine the rights of a victim. It is the responsibility of the State to protect and safeguard the property and persons of every citizen. Where a crime is committed against a citizen, it could be said that the State has failed in effectively discharging its responsibility. The rights of a victim must naturally flow from this failure. It is in this context that the State has a greater responsibility towards such a victim. The victim has the right to demand from the State that the offender be punished and the State must ensure that there is an effective and efficient mechanism to meet this end. It is the right of the victim to see that there is speedy justice but Indian Courts are overworked. It is almost impossible to provide for speedy justice in India. There are 30 million cases pending in Indian courts and India has 10.5 judges for every million population as compared to Australia with 41.6 judges per million population, Hungary with 70 , Canada with 75.2 and the USA with 107 judges per million. It will take 320 years to clear the backlog of 30 million cases in India. Victims are shunning litigation in India where there is no hope of obtaining justice in a reasonable amount of time and where instead of relief from the court, all one can expect is a new date for the next court hearing. According to the National Crime Records Bureau of India, only 31 per cent criminal trials are completed in less than a year and rest take up to 10 years and some may take even more than 10 years.The victim is victimized at two stages, first in the hands of the offender and then in the hands of the State Agencies. This agony continues when victim repeatedly visits the court where there are plenty of adjournments & harassment by offender’s lawyer and therefore it is a clear duty on the part of the State to ensure that there is no secondary victimization.

A person who is suspected or accused of a crime enjoys several constitutional and legal protections. These are contained in various chapters of various constitutions of various nations. The accused is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty and this right is often misused by criminals. The rights of a victim should be at par with that of accused/suspect so that a  level playing field is established. More than 50 per cent of victims around the world are unhappy about the way police treat them, and many others end up severely traumatized by criminal justice systems, according to the International Crime Victims Survey (ICVS), which has been carried out in more than 60 countries over the past decade. Many crime victims complain that they are not allowed any say in key decisions made by the court, including those about sentencing and parole. ‘The fundamental rights of offenders are guaranteed by constitution but fundamental rights of victims are ignored by constitution’. The most significant conflict between offender’s rights and victim’s rights is that victims are exposed to repeated cross-examination in public about sensitive matters to satisfy the offender’s right to a fair trial. Also, offenders are usually defended by prominent lawyers while victim’s counsel is usually a mediocre living in oblivion. Also, benefit of doubt is always given to the accused to prevent conviction of innocent and this logic is often misused by the lawyer of the accused to create & implant doubt in the prosecution case. Ideally, benefit of doubt must be given to the victim rather than the offender and onus of proving innocence must rest with the alleged offender rather than onus of proving guilt on the alleged victim.

I humbly disagree with Indian Supreme Court which was concerned about fundamental rights of accused/suspects by disallowing polygraph, narcoanalysis, brain mapping etc without their consent, respecting their rights, not to self incriminate and personal liberty.  What about the fundamental rights of the victim?  Crime or terrorism itself is an infringement of a human right. By virtue of becoming a victim, individual’s human rights have been violated. Accordingly, steps should be taken to ensure a victim has access to justice. For that purpose, victims want, amongst other things, the state to provide and maintain equal justice and reasonable redress. A clash of rights between offender and victim is not unusual in human rights jurisprudence or policy and does not invalidate each of the rights involved. Such clashes occur for many human rights. One prominent example is the clash between right to freedom of speech and the right of people from minority groups not to be racially vilified. The fact that the victim’s rights and the rights of the accused person will sometimes clash, does not mean that entire constitution and administration of justice should go overboard to defend the rights of accused. Ironically, the Indian Supreme Court’s verdict is a shot in the arms of criminals and terrorists. Terrorists who kill innocent people to spread fear & cheap publicity do not deserve human rights. In India, the leading political party, in order to please a particular community from the viewpoint of vote bank politics, consistently talks about human rights of terror suspects belonging to that community. Yes, it is true that few innocent persons may have been charged under anti-terror laws but few innocent persons have been charged under all laws including rape and domestic violence. It is also true that some countries found it to their benefit to use terrorism prevention to intensify their own crackdown on political opponents, separatists and religious groups. Nonetheless, in order to extract information from terrorists or terror suspects to prevent a future terrorist attack to save lives, we need to use forensic scientific technology on them even at the cost of their alleged human right violations as long as the technology does not cause any permanent disability, knowing fully well that various deception detection tests are not infallible.

A large number of people arrested by the police are guilty. However, it must be emphasized that it is not uncommon for an innocent person to become falsely accused or wrongfully convicted. When a person suffers a false allegation or a wrongful conviction, it is not just that person suffers but their whole families also become innocent victims, and relationships are pushed to their limits. Investigating agencies must know that polygraph test, narcoanalysis, brain mapping etc do have false positive tests and therefore every case must be reviewed by senior officers looking at all the facts and all the evidence in totality rather than jumping to conclusion from a deception detection test. Also, there is a difference between legal guilt & factual guilt and many people caught by police are factually guilty but not legally guilty because they are set free by court due to lack of evidence, and the lack of evidence exists due to repeated lying by the accused. So the distance between factual guilt and legal guilt is a pack of lies and therefore investigating agency must be allowed to use various deception detection tests conducted by forensic science laboratory irrespective of the consent of the accused/suspects. Law is a living process, which changes according to the changes in society, science, ethics as well as threat of terrorism, massive financial scams etc and so on. The Legal System should imbibe developments and advances that take place in science as long as they do not violate fundamental legal principles and are for the good of the society.


What is the best way to prevent/solve any crime?  Catch the criminals.

What is the best way to catch criminals?  Catch their deception.



1) The biggest lie is to say that I have never lied.

2) Lying needs more intelligence and more imagination than telling truth.

3) Statistical lies are worst lies which can mislead & deceive the entire population.

4) In event of clash of fundamental rights between the victim and the perpetrator, benefit of doubt must always be given to the victim rather than the perpetrator because the probability that the perpetrator is lying is far greater than the probability that the victim is lying.

5) Various deception detection tests conducted by forensic science laboratory must be used on terror suspects to prevent future terror attacks to save lives irrespective of the consent of the suspects and irrespective of the fallibility of these tests. Saving a human life carries far greater weight than either fundamental rights of terror suspects or limitations of deception detection tests.


Dr.Rajiv Desai. MD.

June 5, 2010 


It is a lie perpetuated by Americans that Marilyn Monroe did not care about her only son. The truth is that Marilyn Monroe did tell Indian actor Sunil Dutt that her son should be helped. It is another story that barring few exceptions, nobody helped her son in India.

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