Tell Me The Truth

The popular idiom “tell me the truth” has come to bring new meaning to the business world.  Job applicants are now being given a “truth verification” test in their interviews in British Columbia.

According to an article in the Vancouver Sun, an undisclosed U.S. company owns the rights to the Computerized Voice Stress Analyzer (CVSA).  They, in turn, license out the rights to this controversial equipment to other companies.

ITV Consulting, the Victoria firm that licenses the Canadian rights for the CVSA, is administering these tests in B.C..  They state (on their website), “The finished session is evaluated by the computer, rendering its findings of deception or no deception, removing any possibility of examiner error, as well as providing a completely objective examination.”  They recommend that the program be used in conjunction with their expert interrogation techniques.

There is little scientific evidence to support the VSA’s results, and the device has been discredited by many authorities as an effective screening tool for job applicants.

In a 2007 study funded by the US Department of Justice, researchers employed two voice stress analyzer systems, including the CVSA used by ITV Consulting, to quiz people who had just been arrested about their recent drug use.  They then compared the answers with the urine test results.

“Both VSA programs show poor validity-neither program effectively determined who was being deceptive about recent drug use.  The programs were not able to detect deception at a rate any better than chance,” the study concluded.

Despite the lack of scientific evidence to support VSA’s their use has increased throughout the U.S. since 9/11.

What do you think of a Voice Stress Analyzer and its questionable accuracy?  What harm, if any, will an inaccurate reading cause?

4 responses to “Tell Me The Truth”

  1. Keith D. says:

    Well the problems with something like this, particularly in a pre-employment screening, where the stakes are somewhat lower so the chances of deception leakage are less, are two-fold.

    First, over-reliance on technology (especially one that’s been shown to be ineffective) as well as ignorance of the science behind deception and deception detection is likely to result in false-positives– detecting truth tellers as deceptive. This will result in good, honest, qualified prospective employees being overlooked for positions, including the societal cost to those people and their families, along with the subtext suggesting to honest people that sometimes lying is the only way to get ahead in the world because while you might get caught lying, you stand an almost equal chance of not being caught telling the truth, and one makes you look a lot more attractive to an employer than the other (I already find the way people are often instructed to fill a resume with creative euphemisms for mundane, everyday work disgusting personally, and this could take that kind of thinking to the next level IMHO).

    The second result will be false-negatives– liars being detected as honest. The result here will be dishonest, possibly unqualified prospective employees being given jobs over possibly honest and qualified employees. The ramifications of which should be obvious. And if it’s not obvious, one need look no further than the book, Snakes In Suits for examples of what can happen.

    I guess the quote often attributed to P.T. Barnum is right– there’s a sucker born every minute. This will only stop when the public at large stops accepting being the target of ignorance. I don’t see that happening, but I’m not surprised that these kinds of technologies have flourished in the post-9/11 world. The corporate world probably looks at it as cheap insurance to be able to say in court that they’ve “tried in earnest to conduct due diligence. After all, look at the lengths we’ve gone to to screen out the bad apples!”

    This all seems so unnecessary to me when there’s been so much valid, peer-reviewed research out there over the past few decades which lays out a pretty solid framework for accomplishing what these “magic” black boxes claim to be able to do but generally seem unable to actually deliver on.

  2. John Bailey says:

    This kind of thing (“lie-detector machine”) is especially useful in law enforcement employment screening – where it’s important to select FOR the *good* liars.

  3. Heath W. says:

    I agree with Keith D. It’s buck passing. Also, I think it would discourage interviewers staying focussed (over-reliance on what the box says) and make them second-guess their built in lie detection abilities that have millions of years of street cred.

  4. Keith and Heath, you both are right; Humans’ instincts are very perceptive and over reliance on machinery is problematic. Keith you make some insightful remarks not only about the costs to employers and prospective employees but to society as a whole.

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