chapter  5
14 Pages

Gullible’s travel: how honest and trustful children become vigilant communicators


The inventor of Wonderwoman and her golden lasso, William Moulton Marston, did not believe that truth devices were only material for fiction. He claimed to have found a lie-detection technique, one that would “end the 6000-years search for a truth test” (Marston, 1938). It all started when William James invited Hugo Münsterberg to join his laboratory in Harvard. The German émigré soon became a popular professor, laying the foundations of applied psychology and attracting many promising students, young Marston among them. Under Münsterberg’s mentorship, the undergraduate started a research on systolic blood pressure variations that would inspire what may have been the most widely used “lie detector” in human history: the polygraph deception test. From its first uses outside the laboratory in the 1920s, the technique quickly rose to fame. The polygraph featured in TV shows and advertisements and became part of popular culture (Adler, 2007; Bunn, 1997). In Look magazine, the “disinterested truth finder” was used to read hearts and minds, even to settle marital disputes. Once, the polygraph revealed that a “neglected wife and her roving husband” still had love for one another (Bunn, 1997). The technique was also put to less frivolous use, in police or private investigations, or in job interviews. At the height of his fame, Marston claimed that his lie detector test’s accuracy approximated 100%, and was a “psychological medicine” that would “cure crime itself if properly administered” (Marston, 1938). The polygraph deception test, however, proved quite unreliable, with high rates of false positives and false negatives (National Research Council, [USA], 2003).