Developing Polygraph Technology by William Moulton Marston


William Moulton Marston, an American psychologist, inventor, and writer, made significant contributions to the field of psychology and forensic science. One of his most notable achievements was the invention and advancement of polygraph technology. The polygraph, commonly known as a lie detector test, revolutionized the way deception was detected and has been widely used in various fields, including law enforcement, employment screenings, and national security measures. This article delves into the life and work of William Moulton Marston, exploring his pioneering efforts in progressing polygraph technology and its impact on modern society.

Early Life and Background of William Moulton Marston

William Moulton Marston was born on May 9, 1893, in Saugus, Massachusetts. He showed a keen interest in psychology from a young age, which eventually led him to pursue higher education in the field. Marston excelled academically and graduated from Harvard University, where he obtained a bachelor’s degree in psychology. His academic achievements and passion for understanding human behavior laid the foundation for his groundbreaking contributions in the future.

The Invention of the Polygraph Machine

Marston’s fascination with physiological responses and deception prompted him to explore ways to measure and detect lies accurately. Drawing inspiration from his background in psychology, he developed the concept of the polygraph machine. In the early 1920s, Marston introduced the systolic blood pressure test, which formed the basis for his invention.

Contributions to Polygraph Technology

Marston’s pioneering work extended beyond the initial invention of the polygraph machine. He made significant advancements in polygraph instrumentation by incorporating additional physiological measurements. Marston introduced the concept of galvanic skin response, which measures the electrical conductance of the skin and is an indicator of emotional arousal. He also incorporated respiration monitoring, recognizing its importance in detecting signs of deception.


Marston’s contributions were not limited to instrumentation. He also developed innovative questioning techniques that enhanced the accuracy and reliability of polygraph examinations. The control question technique, involving the comparison of physiological responses to relevant and control questions, became a fundamental part of polygraph examinations. Additionally, Marston introduced the relevant-irrelevant testing format, which helped differentiate between truthful and deceptive responses by examining physiological changes.

Recognition and Use of Polygraph Technology

Marston’s invention gained recognition and found applications in various fields. Law enforcement agencies began utilizing the polygraph to aid in criminal investigations, obtaining information from suspects and witnesses. The employment sector also recognized the value of polygraph testing, using it for screening job applicants and verifying the honesty of employees in sensitive positions. Additionally, polygraph technology played a crucial role in national security measures, assisting government agencies in identifying potential security risks and obtaining reliable information.


Marston collaborated with government agencies during World War II, employing polygraph technology in efforts related to national security and intelligence gathering. His work proved instrumental in ensuring the safety and well-being of the nation during a critical period in history.

Controversies and Criticisms Surrounding Polygraph Technology

While the polygraph technology developed by Marston garnered widespread attention and use, it also faced criticism and skepticism. Some experts questioned the scientific validity and reliability of the polygraph, arguing that it was not foolproof and could be influenced by various factors, such as the individual’s physiological responses and the subjective interpretation of the examiner. Ethical concerns regarding the potential violation of privacy and human rights also arose due to the invasive nature of the examinations.

Legacy and Influence of William Moulton Marston

Despite the controversies surrounding polygraph technology, Marston’s contributions left a lasting impact on the field of forensic psychology and the advancement of deception detection techniques. The development of the polygraph opened up new avenues for research and the exploration of human behavior. Today, the use of polygraph technology continues in various fields, albeit with ongoing debates about its reliability and ethical implications.


Marston’s legacy extends beyond the polygraph. He made significant contributions to other areas, including the creation of the comic book character Wonder Woman, where he incorporated his beliefs in the strength and potential of women. Marston’s advocacy for women’s empowerment and his theories on human behavior continue to resonate today.

Future of Polygraph Technology

As technology continues to advance, polygraph technology is also evolving. Researchers and scientists are exploring new advancements in polygraph instrumentation, such as the integration of artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms. These innovations aim to improve the accuracy and reliability of polygraph examinations, addressing some of the criticisms and limitations associated with the traditional polygraph machine. The future holds promise for further developments in the field, leading to more refined deception detection techniques.


William Moulton Marston’s contributions to polygraph technology and the field of psychology were groundbreaking. His innovative ideas and inventions revolutionized the way deception was detected, and the polygraph machine became a significant tool in various areas of society. While the polygraph technology faces ongoing debates and challenges, it continues to play a role in criminal investigations, employment screenings, and national security measures. Marston’s work laid the foundation for advancements in forensic psychology and remains an essential part of the history of deception detection. The legacy of William Moulton Marston serves as a reminder of the potential of human ingenuity and the continuous pursuit of understanding the complexities of human behavior.