The mouth of Truth

The Truth About Lie Detection in Ancient and Modern Times

(Read the article on one page)

Witch Hunt

Witch Hunt. The cucking/ducking stool ( ListVerse)

Modern Lie-Detection

Our modern judicial systems rely on forensics, the scientific method, and psychological and physiological evidence, sometimes compiled using a polygraph, commonly known as a lie detector. The lie detector is three devices – one to record respiration, one to read blood pressure, and one to determine electrical responses of your skin. Combined, this test is intended to measure changes in physiological arousal, or stress.

But this modern lie-detection technology is largely an advanced psychology test, suggest experts. The horrible truth about the lie detectors is that they’re unreliable at discerning fact from fiction, or truth from lies. Though they’re a somewhat comforting cultural icon, they’re considered by scientists and psychologists to be unreliable, and invalid means of lie detection.  Their findings are largely inadmissible in western courts.

Lie Detector

American inventor Leonarde Keeler (1903-1949) testing his lie-detector. ( Public Domain )

In fact, HuffingtonPost writes that there’s not a behaviour that always signals if someone is lying or telling the truth. Deception expert Maria Hartwig, Ph.D., an associate professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice told HuffingtonPost, “just by looking at a person's behavior and listening to their statements, you will obtain an accuracy rate of about 54 percent, which is just slightly above the rate that you would obtain if you were just guessing. […]The classic idea that people, in general, believe -- and that … many of these so-called experts propagate -- is that liars give themselves away by gaze aversion, not looking you in the eyes; that they fidget, they change their posture, they pick on their clothes […] All those ideas turn out to be false”.

An abstract for an article from the American Psychological Associatio n notes that modern lie detectors  are “basically a psychological test, although with questionable psychometric merit, that assumes that liars are aware of their lying, which in turn causes measurable emotional reactions. This simplistic assumption was not always shared by the ancients, but it now has widespread contemporary acceptance. The polygraphic technique based on this assumption yields unacceptably high error rates that have had ruinous effects on the lives of many misclassified truthful persons.”

In future, as our understanding of the human brain advances, we may be able to see into the very minds of people and judge if they’re lying or not. But with guesswork and questionable lie-detector machines as our tools right now, have we come that much farther from dry rice and sooty donkeys? The more we learn of science, technology, neurology and psychology, the closer we are to realizing we still cannot tell truth from lies, or guilt from innocence, with much greater accuracy than the ancients did.

Featured image: La Bocca della Verità  - the Mouth of Truth ( Wikimedia Commons )


The Roman Trickery of Bocca della Verità - RetroBlogRome

Forensics in Antiquity – Wikipedia

The Truth About Lie Detectors (aka Polygraph Tests) - APA

How To Tell If Someone Is Lying To You - HuffPost

Trial by Ordeal - Wikipedia

The Lie Detector: Does it Really Work? - LineonLife

By Liz Leafloor


rbflooringinstall's picture

The only one of those ancient lie detection methods that makes any sense at all is the Chinese rice thing.

Peace and Love,


DeAegean's picture

I twitch a lot and used to have trouble looking people directly in the eye regardless of lying. Modern tests in a dark room with an interrogator would defiintely have me setting off the machine.

The dry mouth makes sense because sometimes when I am around people I don't like talking to my mouth will become very dry and also bitter.

I think they should use some of these on the Jeremy Kyle show make the lie detecxtor results more interesting :)

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article