Could lie detector tests remove election polling errors?

Italian academic says biometric testing could reveal 'secrets of the mind' of potentially lying voters

June 8, 2017
Source: iStock

Could lie detector tests be used to produce accurate poll predictions for the general election? It sounds like one of the many slightly hysterical tabloid headlines that perpetuate media coverage around election time, but for one Italian business academic, it could be the future of eradicating polling errors.

Giuliano Noci, professor of strategy and marketing at MIP Politecnico di Milano, believes that introducing biometric tests to traditional "neuromarketing" techniques of market research could remove the uncertainty of exit polls, which have resulted in recent unreliable political predictions and shock at result at the results of the UK's referendum on European Union membership, last year's US presidential poll and Italy's recent constitutional referendum.

Through the use of wearable devices to identify someone's “emotional arousals” – the physical and biological changes that occur when people answer questions – exit pollsters would not have to rely on the self-selecting accuracy of people’s political preferences, Professor Noci told Times Higher Education. This would address the problem of someone "lying to disassociate themselves” from an unpopular or controversial vote.

“Society has becoming much more complex and, given this complexity, individuals in some cases are not able to qualify precisely and reliably what their real reactions are,” Professor Noci said. “As far as political issues are concerned, [in] several cases they don’t want to tell the truth. This is becoming more relevant, given populist parties and other new and strange phenomena going on [in politics].

“Biomarketing is much broader in scope than neuromarketing, which reveals and collects brain signals through electroencephalograms. What we do is much more – we are collecting…all parameters coming from the body: blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rhythm, sweating, and [microfacial expressions].”

Professor Noci said the method, which he has used in previous research in conjunction with Italian companies, has a weight of academic literature on “emotional arousal” to support its “robust”, scientific value. The tests, he says, simply “undermine our [natural] defences”, such as shame and reserve, to reveal the “true secrets of the mind”.

As these tests only require a small sample of people – about 200 or 300 individuals – rather than the tens of thousands used in exit polls, it is also much more efficient than traditional market research.

Although the devices are non-invasive, some people might not want to be approached by a stranger standing outside a polling station asking them to put on a T-shirt full of biometric technology for the purposes of market research, something of which Professor Noci is aware.

“It’s a bit of an issue,” he conceded. “You need to have specific techniques, and to be honest, not [everyone wants] to do this, for privacy concerns.

“But they do not force individuals to come to a lab [which can be daunting]. We have wearable electroencephalograms: T-shirts with all the relevant sizes for collecting the relevant parameters.

"It’s true, it’s a little bit more invasive than market research, but this is the cost that you pay for adding a more reliable output.”

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