Brain stimulation – the next interrogation aid?

Photo by Flickr user Magh. Click for sourceAn article just published online for the Behavioural Science and Law journal discusses whether magnetic brain stimulation could be used in lie detection and interrogation.

It is based on the premise that as cognitive neuroscience works out the brain circuits for lying, a technique called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) could be used during an interview to disrupt the function of these pathways.

The article specifically pitches this idea as a possible ‘lie detection’ method, as so far, research conducted by the authors suggest that disrupting parietal cortex function, on average, slows the response time for lies and but doesn’t affect response time for truthful responses – albeit in a very controlled laboratory experiment.

In other words, the idea is that TMS could be used to help distinguish truthful responses from untruthful ones.

My first thought on reading this was that someone is bound to be thinking of this technique as a way of inhibiting the relevant circuits to prevent lying, or at least increase the likelihood of truthful responses.

It’s probably true to say that deception research is in its very early days and its not even clear whether such things as distinct ‘deception circuits’ even exist.

However, from what we know from now-public secret military research in this area, it’s clear that many of these sorts of techniques are simply tested empirically.

Essentially, whether there is a good theoretical basis or not, national security agencies are much more likely simply to try the techniques and see what the outcome is.

The Behavioural Science and Law article sticks firmly to the possible civilian uses for this technology, discussing the legal and ethical issues within a domestic law framework, but you can bet that the spooks are already thinking ahead on this one.

Link to ‘Non-invasive brain stimulation in the detection of deception’.
Link to PubMed entry for same.

3 Comments

  1. Brutha
    Posted March 9, 2009 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

    How high can you go with the intensity of the thing till it’s torture?

  2. Posted March 9, 2009 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

    I was warned by Vin Walsh that one has to be cautious when interpreting TMS data; higher level claims are difficult to make as they can typically be attributed to lower level mechanisms.

  3. Posted March 10, 2009 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    It seems like with ultrasound brain stimulation,you could do all sorts of things. A government agency might be able to activate the reward related pathways of the brain to gain compliance from prisoners (artificially inducing pleasure/euphoria). Or they could activate the neural pathways associated with pain, without actually inflicting any damage to a person. All sorts of behavior modifications could also become available with this type of non-invasive brain stimulation.


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