Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Liar, liar, brain on fire (Part II)
So I'm the correspondent on the "liar, liar" story and actually took the MRI lie detector test discussed in an earlier post.

The MRI can be pretty intimidating -- it's a huge machine and constantly makes banging noises. The sound made me think of a metal bat dropping on a cement floor, over and over again.

The doctors slid me into the machine and asked me a bunch of questions over the course of 40 minutes. As if on cue, my brain "lit up" every time I lied.

Then I took a good old-fashioned polygraph. I had to wear an inflated blood pressure cuff for the duration of the test -- about 10 minutes. I didn't really beat the test, but I could certainly mess with the results by changing my breathing and thinking about other stuff.

Both tests were very uncomfortable and I can see why neither has 100 percent accuracy. But the doctors at Temple are on to something. And they are fired up about the possibility of one day having a fool-proof lie-detector test.

Tell you the truth, the whole idea kind of freaks me out. I'm not too excited about someone being able to see inside my brain and read my thoughts. What do you think? Is a fool-proof lie detector a good or bad thing? Yes, you have to type it out, because we can't read your mind...yet.
Posted By Rob Marciano, CNN Weather Anchor: 3:25 PM ET
  51 Comments
I think it could prove itself to be important in court cases. I don't think it will be better or more accurate than using DNA.
Posted By Anonymous Jim, Alton IL : 3:32 PM ET
Mmmmmmm...must love Big Brother...mmmmmmm...must always think nice about Big Brother...mmmmmmm losing my individual identity. I'm scared ya'll! Technology like this just takes us one step closer to an Orwellian nightmare. I say let the police keep on solving crime like they have been, by investigating, not throwing us in a machine and asking us if we did it.
Posted By Anonymous Matt: Chapel Hill, NC : 3:40 PM ET
I'm begining to think no where is safe for free thoughts anymore.... not even one's own brain. Scares me too.
Posted By Anonymous Steve, Columbus, Ohio : 3:42 PM ET
Reminds me of capital punishment. We have killed folks whom were subsequently proven innocent.

How many people are/will be deemed liars by machines, with reputations and lives ruined, and then..."oops, the data was wrong, you were telling the truth after all...sorry!"?
Posted By Anonymous Rob MacKnight, San Diego, CA : 3:43 PM ET
I believe that a fool-proof lie detector test would go a long way to prevent innocent people from going to jail.

It may not work on people who "believe" the lie. Like religious fanatics who believe they did nothing wrong because God told them to do it. Also, it may not work in cases like Saddam, who still believes that he is the leader of Iraq and that he did nothing wrong.
Posted By Anonymous Shane Morris, Topeka, Kansas : 3:45 PM ET
Hey Rob, interesting proposition: a "fool-proof lie detector." Is that perhaps an "oxymoron"?!? 1st of all, I think you need to put the AC 360 blog back on the main page of CNN.com--I see the blog's activity as reflected by # of comments has seriously dropped off and "tanked" since CNN took this blog off the main CNN.com homepage. Alas, am I the only American willing to do some *work* and spend some effort to find this beloved blog page of ours?!? Back to the lie detector issue... I think that the "right of the individual (i.e., criminals in this case)" in this country has gone way too far to the extreme. We have glorified and elevated the almighty "right of the individual" to abe ABOVE the "right of the group/many" and in this case the rights of victims of crime. If a fool-proof lie detector could be developed--and I think this MRI-based version is a HOT ITEM--then I am all for it. Anything to help tilt the legal scales back against the criminal element. Of course, what would be interesting is how the legal/judicial system would "absorb" use of and results of such lie detectors. Also, just perhaps, we could save time, money, and resources in the judicial process, like eliminating costly and lengthy jury trials, which sap huge amounts of resources unnecessarily.

The biggest problem and issue of such a lie detector will be accuracy, of course. If high degrees of accuracy can be proven or demonstrated, then perhaps the courts would be more open and willing to introducing their use in our legal/judicial system??!?

Please keep us posted, Rob. I'm familiar with MRIs and their already HUGE MEDICAL BENEFITS in providing patient diagnosis and care (you should see a doctor go through hundreds of MRI "layers" of images of a patient's head or other area of a human body on a computer screen of the patient's electronic medical record--FASCINATING!!)
Posted By Anonymous Mark, Sacramento, California : 3:55 PM ET
The ability to "lie" has never been a good thing, morally or religiously. However we all do to one degree or another. Now, if such a machine does come to exist, who is going to determine who is honest enought to monitor it and us it properly? "Who watches the Watchman"?
Posted By Anonymous Ron, Levittown, NY : 3:55 PM ET
I'd be interested to know how this differs between the genders as studies have proven that brain activity is substantially different between he sexes.
Posted By Anonymous Karen Morley, Frederick, MD : 3:56 PM ET
This is very scary! It's one thing to be forced to testify. It's another to be forced into this machine to record your brain waves. My question is this, how can you ever prove accuracy when often times criminals believe their own lies? Can it pick up on this as well or just the obvious like me telling you the sky is orange?
Posted By Anonymous JR Parn, Quincy Illinois : 3:56 PM ET
I suspect graphologists could accomplish the same results for a lot less money and time.
Posted By Anonymous Michael, San Jose, CA : 3:58 PM ET
let's give this to top administration including the president of the US - results should be reaaaallllly interesting. I personally wouldn't mind taking it, but might get the terrors in the MRI
Posted By Anonymous Kathleen, Fort Wayne, IN : 3:59 PM ET
My understanding is that people who are used to lying professionally can abuse polygraph tests with little difficulty and this makes me wonder whether the MRI test has been attempted on such a person. If there ever is such a thing as a fool-proof lie-detector test, I don't think I would mind. I think I might start minding more if suspects were required to take such a test.
Posted By Anonymous Robert Serocki, San Diego CA : 4:01 PM ET
I don't worry about a fool-proof lie detector being used on me because I don't have anything to hide. (And that's the truth.) I'm more concerned about such a lie detector used on people who are in the habit of lying that they don't realize they are lying. Therefore, their brains think that they are telling truth.
Posted By Anonymous Grace, Santa Maria, CA : 4:01 PM ET
There will always be someone who can outsmart even the best lie detectors. No, I don't think this will be any help at all.
Posted By Anonymous TracyLyn Detroit,MI : 4:03 PM ET
The lie detector will be really fun to know what others are thinking.But this doctors n MRI r all a bunch.If we can get a small gadget for that I think,its gonna make the world crazy.It was nice reading ur blog.:)
Posted By Anonymous Lisa,Fairfax,Virginia : 4:03 PM ET
What a ridiculous use of an MRI machine. Now I know why people often have to wait months for a scan.
Posted By Anonymous Joel Dupuis, Toronto ON : 4:04 PM ET
I work with fMRIs, and there is no way you to come anywhere close to 'reading your thoughts'. You just can't do it, so any worries about it are severely misplaced.

That being said, I think a fool proof lie detector test wouldn't be such a bad thing, especially if it came in the form of an fMRI. At a cost running in the millions there wouldn't much of a concern of people using it for inappropriate tings, like finding out if your employees were lying, or anything like that. So the benefits would outway the risks, in my opinion.
Posted By Anonymous Ryan, Bloomington, Indiana : 4:05 PM ET
I believe that if there was a_truly, 100%,accurate, lie detector test, that it would be a true blessing to determine "who is really guilty", in any situation.
The only people who would not want to "take it", would be the quilty ones.
Posted By Anonymous Patti, Palmyra, Va. : 4:07 PM ET
I think it could be great tool used properly in the criminal justice system. As long as it never became too readily accessable to the general public, as lie detectors have. On the other hand, only the guilty would object to its use. The benefits outweigh the negatives.
Posted By Anonymous Susan, Tallahassee, FL : 4:10 PM ET
Yes, having the ability to do something must be separated from the ethics necessary to make it useful, safe, and protective.

Why would we want to know the truth? Why would we not want to have a tool that would help the innocent, and perhaps aid in punishing and perhaps protecting the guilty?

Sworn testimony could be changed to authenticated testimony. The ability to derive the truth from witnesses could potentially change forever our current court system for the better, to say nothing of political debates.
:-)
Posted By Anonymous John, Salt Lake City, UT. : 4:11 PM ET
Use the MRI to find out the truth--especially with terrorists or other potentially dangerous folks the MRI could be useful to get information this way rather than torture where people will tend to say anything to stop the pain...and it is more humane. I know the MRI is scary and somewhat invasive but it's not torture and it sounds more promising than lie detector tests.
Posted By Anonymous Joan Curtiss, Albuquerque, New Mexico : 4:13 PM ET
I say test it out on OJ !!!! heheh. But really, this could be an invaluavle tool in unsolved crimes and other trials. These tests, combined with other evidence, could better incriminate and/or find defendants not guilty. Maybe we can start testing our politicians also.........
Posted By Anonymous David, San Antonio-Texas : 4:26 PM ET
I think someone needs to bring in Sanjay Gupta for a consultation.

Seems like lying is not an objective concept that can be tracked clinically. Maybe I'm off base here but if someone believes they're telling the truth -- how can the brain register it as a lie??

And what if someone is hallucinating?? What kind of reading would the MRI show??

I'm fascinated by brain chemistry and what we will learn in years to come by looking inside this mysterious collection of nerve bundles and electron firings and whatnots -- but searching for Truth in a sea of neurotransmitters could be misguided??
Posted By Anonymous Cara Houston, TX : 4:27 PM ET
The truth is always nice but sometimes we depend on being lied to.
Posted By Anonymous Pete, Irvine CA : 4:36 PM ET
I think studying the brain is very interesting. It's a truly amazing and resilient part of the human anatomy. I don't think, however, that any lie detector test will ever be full proof. Too many other things are involved that can cause it to be wrong. Most people who lie won't look you in the eye. That, DNA testing, and good old fashion investigation is worth a lot more.
Posted By Anonymous Karen, Houston, Texas : 4:36 PM ET
We already have a way to tell when politicians are lying: Their lips are moving.
Posted By Anonymous John, Huntington Beach, CA : 4:37 PM ET
The supposition that certain brain areas light up when a person is untruthful assumes that they are having to put forth a different effort to tell the lie. The MRI only shows differences in activation in differen brain areas. My point being that science is very far from being able to "read thoughts", and if lying comes easily to a person, then yes, changes in brain function would be less likely (a common problem with polygraphs). Yes, this might prove useful in some instances, but people should not be concerned that suddenly the legal system would begin to use this instead of DNA, or that Big Brother will be able to read our thoughts. It's still a young science.
Posted By Anonymous Susan, Chicago, IL : 4:41 PM ET
I don't know if I would like the idea of a machine that could "read" my mind. I know that it may help in criminal cases & the like, but then what would happen if the machine got into the wrong hands???
Posted By Anonymous Susan O., Warwick RI : 4:42 PM ET
hmm, i guess this could be of great use in legal matters, but could also be horriblly abused. then again, if you were under the machine, couldn't you always just refuse to talk at all?
Posted By Anonymous alec, poughkeepsie, ny : 4:48 PM ET
Assuming this fMRI technology for the detection of lies is validated and in use, its use may be warranted. Let me tell you why: First, the people operating the fMRI would only be able to discern lies by using specific brain patterns as cues. They wouldn't be able to 'read' a though. Second, the fMRI would be used in court cases, either mandated by a judge or used on a consenting party. No intrusion on civil liberties here. However, I really doubt that this technology couldn't be fooled. As you mentioned, by altering your galvanic responses, you can 'fudge' results on a current lie detector. I'm sure it wouldn't be too hard to fool fMRI technology either.
Posted By Anonymous Sandro Scielzo, Orlando FL : 4:49 PM ET
Some other posters have raised very good points: who will regulate this technology? Who determines who else is honest enough to administer these tests? And, is this really an appropriate use of an MRI?

While I can see this as being a great development -- that is, another effective tool to add to investigator's toolbox, along with DNA "fingerprinting", etc. -- where will the line be drawn on who it will be used on? And, how specific do the questions have to be for this to be ethical? What pathways, exactly, are lighting up in these tests when the subject lies? Psychologists know already that misleading questions can yield extraordinarily inaccurate answers; how will this knowledge be applied to the new lie-detecting MRI technology?

And finally: how does all of this apply to people who are claustrophobic and must be given sedatives before they can be given an MRI? How will those drugs alter the results of the MRI?
Posted By Anonymous Beverly, San Andreas, CA : 4:53 PM ET
I think the future implications would be about the same for a gun. The tool is not a threat by itself..it would fall on the users intent.
Posted By Anonymous Michele, Olympia WA : 4:56 PM ET
Why use an MRI when we could just torture? Both achieve the same results...In response to Joan, I think this is just a PC version of torture. They obviously don't want the blood on their hands but it achieves the same result. I'm opposed to the idea.
Posted By Anonymous B. Awesome, Atlanta, GA : 5:00 PM ET
I don't believe in lie detector tests in all its forms. The thing is only good as the person who 'programmed' it. Let's all detect liars the old fashion way....catch them in a lie. If it aint 100% bullet proof don't invest in it.
Posted By Anonymous Diane Jacob, Lansing,Michigan : 5:00 PM ET
When can we get a portable one so we can tell when our teenagers are lying to us?
Posted By Anonymous Throw, New York, New York : 5:02 PM ET
That is honestly crazy, no pun intended, but it could be a good thing: putting people to the test and seeing if they are truely guilty of crimes or just wrongly accused, but how about the idea of not ever being able to hide something... In the long run i almost feel like it would cause more harm than good.
Posted By Anonymous Hilda, Anaheim Hills, California : 5:04 PM ET
This sort of thing would be useless to prove criminals actually committed a crime. There is still a thing called the 5th amendement, you know, that constitutional amendment that gives the public the right to be free from self-incrimination.

You could only use it to prove innocence, not guilt.
Posted By Anonymous EHJ, Cincy, Ohio : 5:08 PM ET
I fail to see how the use of such a test rises to the level of some Orwellian nightmare. This test is not "seeing inside your brain," just as a traditional lie detector is not "seeing into the constriciton of your arteries." It's simply an improvement upon the current technology.

Should the day come when I am innocently pulled from my home and thrown into an MRI without any provocation, then we can start talking about "big brother."

Until that day, I take comfort in improvements in technology that are designed to uphold the rights of innocent victims.
Posted By Anonymous Nancy, Pittsburgh : 5:12 PM ET
Would "perpetrating a hoax" and a "lie" be detected by the MRI as being the same . . . in which case could I arrange immediate access to a machine and schedule sessions for my children and friends for I often suspect them of doing either ?
Posted By Anonymous Jerry, Virginia Beach, VA : 5:12 PM ET
Fool-proof lie detecting? Why not! Aside from being a great tool for the criminal justice system, it would be nice to use it for the sometimes difficult questions you ask yourself: Are you lying to yourself when you say that you're happy with your job?spouse? life? Are you being true to yourself?
Posted By Anonymous Celina, Laredo, TX : 5:14 PM ET
Full proof lie detector? Brilliant. We can finally say goodbye to unjust prosecutions and make sure the right people are punished. Hey, maybe we can find out if Bush really thought there were weapons of mass destruction.
Posted By Anonymous Mike Romatowski, St. Catharines, Ontario Canada : 5:14 PM ET
If we are so insecure and overcrowded that we can't risk untruths, the politicians, police and judges should be the first to be required to undergo it. Humans are now so crowded on Earth that they act like zoo animals in too-small cages, snapping at each other constantly and getting crazier.

I hope to see the day that we at least admit that Every Other Problem humans have is made vastly worse by the overpopulation.
Posted By Anonymous Joseph Blaugh, Washington, DC : 5:14 PM ET
I can't say if it's good or bad, there are certain white lies that we can't live without. (In a million years I could never tell my mom I actually HATE her famous pumpkin pie and I don't need a pesky MRI screwing that one up for me)...what I can say is that it will never be full proof. There are some pathological liars out there who firmly believe they are telling the truth, they have no idea that the words that tumble out of their mouths are lies. If that's the case, their neurological "readings" would not portray otherwise. I could be wrong. If I am, my Dad will be honked off he spent all that college money on my BA in Psychology.
Posted By Anonymous Patty Delk, Washington D.C. : 5:14 PM ET
First of all, let's take a step back and examine the feasibility of using functional MRI (fMRI) for lie detection. First of all, there is a positive in that using magnetic pulses leads to few health risks (this is why the Japanese use MRI almost exclusively, avoiding radiation from X-rays). Next, fMRI can be used to accurately pinpoint particular areas of the brain such as those involved in speaking or in this case lying. With this said, here is why this will never be a useful lie detector: $$$. The cost for one of these tests is astronomic so that a fMRI scan would only be done to assess damage to the cortex post cardiovascular accident. In this case, a PET scan would probably be better anyway. The money that would need to be spent to make the lie detection process more accurate would be astronomic and of no benefit to the economy. In conclusion, although there may be some benefit in knowing whether a person is lying, the focus on the technology should stay within the realm of healthcare. There are still many parts of the brain that this technology could be used to explore, aiding medical knowledge instead of swimming with red herrings.
Posted By Anonymous Kevin Backfish, Bloomington,IN : 5:15 PM ET
I have done fMRI experimentation to know that there is simply too much variability in individual brain structure and too little understood to know about the functions of brain areas to expect fMRI to have the same status as DNA testing. If real criminal investigations go this way, it will be disastrous.

It is important that you in the media do not sensationalize findings like these and lead to unrealistic expectations on the publics part. It is one thing to report on new findings about how our brains tend to respond when lying and another thing to suggest that we are well on our way to a new lie detector, ready to be used in criminal investigations.
Posted By Anonymous S. Niyogi, Cambridge, MA : 5:16 PM ET
Even if the scientists at Temple find a strong correlation between a lie told and activity detected on the MRI, it is critical to remember correlation is not causation. How can we know for sure. Also, this may work on average people who don't typically lie. What about sociopaths - we can't tell if their brain will even change during a lie. How much good will this be?
Posted By Anonymous Dave-Seattle : 5:38 PM ET
I'm torn. As a 70's "flower-child" my knee jerk reaction is "How Dare They!" and I picture 1984, and internment camps with lines of people waiting to be ushered into these machines.

But, my logical, practical side say's about time we put money into reasearching something that MAY make a diference instead of a multimillion dollar study that tells me that an SUV uses more gas that a Hybrid car.

Constitutionally, it will be a whole different story!
Posted By Anonymous R.T. - Appleton, WI : 5:39 PM ET
I have been convicted of a crime I never commited (Misdeamors Only, Luckily). I was the Victim of a plea bargain deal, between my Court Appointed Attorney and the District Attorney, and I honestly believe the Judge was part of it too. This could save many "Innocent" people from being punished unfairly, like myself. When I went to have the case reviewed... after I could get enough money for my own lawyer. All the court documents and my case file had disappeared, the State said "Sorry (But you are screwed.)". Because, there was no evidence to prove right-or-wrong, I was stuck with the convictioins with no appeal. I am going now... because this is starting to get me upset again.
Posted By Anonymous Tony Martinez Salem, Oregon : 5:40 PM ET
I think it can be a good idea when it comes to violent crimes. However, it scares me to think it could be used for other reasons. As long as we use this kind of technology for good and not for recreational purposes, then I don't see a problem.
Posted By Anonymous Despina, Charlotte, NC : 5:48 PM ET
Has there been any work done to see how sociopaths or compulsive liars brain MRI results stack up to "normal" people's? What about people who are mentally ill? And can someone be "browbeaten" by repeated questioning or other manipulations into producing results to suit what interrogators are looking for?

I think we've a long way to go before we get something that's foolproof and infallible. The prospect of someone "beating" the MRI and being considered truthful when they're in fact lying scares me a lot less than the prospect that someone might be browbeaten into showing "truthfulness" and admitting guilt for something they didn't do.
Posted By Anonymous Karin, Lomita, CA : 6:03 PM ET
I would assume an MRI as a lie detector test would cost a lot more than a traditional polygraph, am I right? For criminals, I'd say it's not worth it and stick with the polygraph.

And I had several MRI's as a child when I had cancer, and so I sympathize with you, they are very scary! The idea of being stuck in a dark, noisy tunnel is very frightening, and that would be enough to get my brain going haywire!
Posted By Anonymous Courtney, Chagrin Falls, OH : 6:15 PM ET
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