- Published: November 18, 2012
Court cases are always trying to get to the bottom of things and figure out the truth. Unfortunately, humans are not always altruistic; they may lie to protect themselves or others they care about. Lie detecting technologies have at this point not proven themselves reliable. The classic polygraph measures physiological reactions that we associate with anxiety, such as sweating, breathing rate, and blood pressure (Greely, 2004). The idea behind these measurements is that these signs of nervousness supposedly correlate with lying (Greely, 2004). Courts have mostly rejected them, because of inconsistencies with their accuracy (Greely, 2004). However, neuroscience has the opportunity to not only determine whether or not someone is lying by measuring brain activity, but also potentially compel someone to tell the truth (Greely, 2004).
MRI has already been used to try and measure brain areas that light up when someone is not telling the truth. Suppose that future neuroscience could precisely pinpoint these areas. In that case, a drug or other type of stimuli could “be administered” to suppress the areas associated with lying, thus making it impossible for someone to tell anything but the truth (Greely, 2004). If we pretend for the moment that this kind of a procedure were 100% accurate, could we also force people to undergo it? What would a person’s rights be regarding whether or not they have to take a test? If they refuse, can that fact alone be brought up in a courtroom? Are there cases which warrant compulsion to take such a test? There are additional concerns with the 5th amendment, which protects witnesses from being forced to incriminate themselves.
The technology seems absolutely incredible, but our legal system is in no way prepared to handle such a powerful tool. We have only scratched the surface on the implications of a type of truth serum; as neuroscience creeps into the courtroom, we may have to develop a new framework to handle the raw power of such evidence.
Greely, H. (2004, April 20). Neuroethics: the neuroscience revolution, ethics, and the law. Retrieved from http://www.scu.edu/ethics/publications/submitted/greely/neuroscience_ethics_law.html