Expert: What I Know About ... Lies

Your nose may not grow when you tell a fib but there are other ways to spot a liar.

Certified forensic psychophysiologist Ken Donaldson

Photography by Pedersen

Who: Ken Donaldson

Age: 48 

Job: Certified Forensic Psychophysiologist

Experience: Ken Donaldson knows you lie. “We all do it,” says the certified forensic psychophysiologist, who conducts polygraph tests for his company, ITR Inc. Sometimes the little white lies are pretty harmless, but avoiding the truth can also mean the ends of relationships or careers. So, when people enter Donaldson’s office, he encourages them to tell the truth.

Since 2004, he’s conducted polygraphs for security companies, lawyers and individuals. He trained at the Academy of Polygraph Science in Largo, Florida, completing an American Polygraph Association accredited program in 2003. While studying in Florida, Donaldson also conducted examinations for the Largo Police Department and an armoured car company. Now, his work is featured on a 13-episode documentary series called The Lie Detective, which was nominated for the half-hour Best Documentary Series Rosie Award by the Alberta Media Production Industries Association. 

“Polygraphs work based on the idea that the mind affects the body when there is a stimulus. The stimulus is a carefully worded question like: ‘Did you take any money from the drawer?’ We’ll put these accordion type things, one along their stomach and one on their chest to monitor their breathing. Then we’ll put two things on their fingers to monitor what’s called galvanic skin response, which measures perspiration.

- “I believe nearly all people are afraid to be caught in their lies. And the mind and the body are very connected. Your digestion stops, saliva stops, blood starts going to your brain and some of your muscles and your hands and the bottoms of your feet will perspire. These things happen instantly and they’re uncontrollable.

- “A true sociopath can’t be tested with a polygraph test. A sociopath, if they’re hungry walking down the street and they see a deli window with some food in it, they’ll smash the window, take the food and eat it. They know the police might come, but they don’t care. So, they don’t have a fear response and they don’t care if they’re caught.

- “There’s all kinds of information on the Internet about how to trick a polygraph. People say you can put antiperspirant on your palms, you can medicate yourself to slow your heart rate, or put a tack in a shoe. The first two will just dampen the response, but the fight-or-flight response will still kick in, just to a lesser extent. The tack will create such a large reaction that it’ll be obvious something’s off.

- “Just as stress can be harmful to our health, so can lying. I’m not talking about the little white ‘love your outfit’ lies; I’m talking about the huge ‘I don’t know if the marriage is right anymore’ ones. I think after a while, many people forget what’s important — they lie to those closest to them and even themselves. They sacrifice things like health and relationships for money or promotions.

- “People’s breathing patterns are naturally irregular when they are talking. But different people have different patterns that might indicate a lie. Sometimes they answer a question and stop breathing for five to seven seconds. When they start breathing again, they take no extra air to make up for the oxygen lost. Their adrenalin is running so hard that they don’t need it; they’re that afraid of getting caught.

- “People have been monitoring the physiology of others during certain stimulus for a very long time — probably at least 100 years. Certain things were discovered in haphazard ways, like the blood rushing to your brain when afraid. There was a psychologist who was monitoring someone’s brain and they noticed that when someone entered the room unexpectedly, the blood rushed to the patient’s brain.”  

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