Raymond Nelson - Polygraph Examiner

Polygraph Glossary and Definitions

“How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn't make it a leg.” 

(Abraham Lincoln)

The following definitions are offered in order to facilitate the development and dissemination of an adequate conceptual vocabulary for post-conviction polygraph testing. These definitions may differ slightly from other lexicons. 

(linked markup comming someday...)

Acquaintance test (calibration test, orientation test, sensitivity test)

Any of a number of structured forms of practice test employed by polygraph examiners, in order to adjust a polygraph instrument to an individual’s response potential (baseline), orient an examinee to the polygraph experience prior to beginning the in-test phase of an examination, and to rule-out outside issues that might interfere with an examination.


Any person age 18 or older, regardless of developmental status. Legal and cultural conventions in the  United States dictate that people become adult on the date of their 18th birthday.

Alone (completely alone, unsupervised)

In polygraph testing, usually refers to being alone with minors or vulnerable persons, in a manner such that others cannot observe or monitor what activities are occurring, or are unaware of the circumstances under which an adult one is alone with a minor (or an older adolescent is alone with a younger child).


Any person who is not conscious not due to medications, illness, injury, alcohol or drugs. Persons may be fully asleep or partially asleep, and both conditions would indicate a person who is unfit to provide full informed consent for sexual contact.


Any method intended to get someone to do something he or she does not wish to do. Forms of coercion may include exploitation of authority, use of verbal pressure, or actions such as bribes, threats, or intimidation to gain cooperation or compliance. Also includes threats of loss of relationship, esteem, or privilege, or threats of punishment inflicted by a parent. May also include the use of alcohol or drugs to alter a victim’s judgment or awareness of his or her behavior. While coercion is inclusive of force and threats, it is useful to differentiate physical forms of force, or threat of force/harm from other forms of coercion.

NOTE: While some sex offense specific treatment providers broaden the term 'force' to include all forms of coercion and mis-use of power and opportunty - including the opportunities to sexually touch persons who are alseep, unconscious, or mentally incapacitated - this is not advisable for polygraph purposes. It is preferebale to limit the terms 'for ce' and threats' to refer specifically to the use of violence to gain a victim's cooperation or silence, and describe other offense behaviors involving mis--use of role/authority/relationship and/or touching persons who are asleep or unconscious. Incoporating these operational definitions together prevents the ability to differentiate offenders who use violence from those who do not. Some offenders would prefer to blend these concepts together as that would give them the ability to conceal there use of violence under the guise of mis-using their role, authority or relationship.

Contact (non-sexual)

Refers to any greeting, interaction or physical contact with others. In polygraph testing this concept is often employed to define the limits of contact with vulnerable persons, minors, or past victims. Contact can be non-verbal, as in making eye-contact or waiving to another person. Contact may also be incidental, as in a brief verbal greeting.

Contact log

A writing log for recording incidental contacts with minors, vulnerable persons, or past victims. Contact logs are required of some sex offenders, and are submitted to treatment and supervising officers at specified intervals. Contact logs are useful to ascertain the limits of a sex offender’s contact with minors or vulnerable persons in the community. Contacts such as greetings, interactions, and physical contacts may be the focus of a sex offender’s contact logs. Evaluation of the nature and pattern of such contacts can be helpful towards learning to minimize contact with vulnerable persons and assure safe behavioral judgment when contacts do occur. Contact logs have also been useful to assist in polygraph testing of the limits of a sex offender’s contacts with vulnerable persons in the community. However polygraph questions must behaviorally descriptive and testing the limits of behavior may not be productive unless the volume of reported behavior is very minimal.

Diagnostic test

In forensic psychophysiology, a polygraph test conducted in response to positive results on a screening test, or a narrowly focused test conducted in response to a known incident or allegation.


The entirety of the PPD process, including pretest, test and posttest elements, from onset to completion. (Note: PPD refers to Psychophysiological Detection of Deception)

Exhibitionism/indecent exposure

Strategically showing one’s bare sexual organs to unsuspecting persons. May involve behavior or activities that appear normal, thought they are planned to result in exposure of one’s genitals to others. May also include public indecency behaviors such as ‘streaking’, ‘mooning” others, or sexual activities, in public view of others.

Event-specific polygraph

In forensic psychophysiology, a polygraph examination conducted in response to a known incident, involving reasonable cause to suspect a particular individual or set of individuals.

Force (physical force, violent force, real or implied violence)

Refers to physically forcing another person for sexual contact, including grabbing, holding, pulling, tugging, pushing down, or restraining a victim using one’s body, physical strength or non-human object for restraint. Using one’s strength or size to overpower a victims resistance or to prevent a victim’s escape (including wiggling or squirming away), Any physical efforts to prevent or deter a victim from attempting any physical means to stop or prevent a sex offender from completing an offense. While statutes sometimes refer to ‘force’ and ‘threat of force’ in a similar context, these constructs are regarded as distinct for the purpose of investigation a sex offenders willingness to use violence to gain a victim’s compliance. Sexual contact after a person says ‘no’ or ‘stop’ should be regarded as insufficient to determine the limits of a sex offender’s use of physical force, and sex offenders should be asked to describe any use of physical force or threats of force to maintain the compliance of a victim who attempted to say ‘no’ or ‘stop.’


Refers to touching or rubbing against other sexually without their knowledge or permission, usually in public places or in circumstances in which one’s actions would be easily mistaken for accidental, unintentional, or innocent in nature. This term may encompass sports activities or physical activities in which a persons touches or rubs against others for sexual arousal in the context of otherwise ordinary or non-sexual physical contact.

Full sexual history disclosure

The process of completely reviewing and disclosing one’s sexual history with a treatment provider or treatment group in preparation for a sexual history polygraph examination

Focused screening test (polygraph)

Refers to polygraph examination that possess attributes of both event-specific and screening polygraphs, including: 1) no known precipitating event or incident, 2) a narrowly defined set of issues under investigation, and 3) the systematic selection of test subjects (as opposed to unsystematic or random selection of subjects from the general population).


Any contact involving an incidental salutation or interaction with another persons, including nodding one’s head, smiling, eye contact, waiving, saying ‘hello’ or other method of acknowledging another person. Sex offenders in treatment and under supervision are often required to report such greeting to their treatment and supervision teams, and such events may be subject to contact log requirements and polygraph testing of the limits of these contact

Grooming (grooming behavior)

The process of getting to know another person for the primary purpose of engaging in sexual contact, without genuine regard for one’s relationship with another or the well-being of others. Refers to

Incapacitated (physically incapacitated, mentally incapacitated)

Asleep or unconscious from drugs and/or alcohol, or other medical condition. May include persons who are stuporous or unaware due to general or overall functional impairments.

Inconclusive (no opinion)

Synonymous with the term ‘no opinion.’ An examiner’s required diagnostic opinion when an examinee’s polygraph record contains physiological responses that are insufficient to render an opinion that there were significant reactions to the issue/s under investigation, and when there are also insufficient response criteria upon which to base a diagnostic opinion that there were no significant reactions indicative of deception.

Instant offense examination (polygraph)

A form of post-conviction sex offender testing, conducted when a subject is in denial of the offense or of some significant element of the offense for which he or she was convicted, and is often used to break down the denial barrier. This is also an examination that can be given when a new allegation has been made while the subject is on probation or parole. The polygraph is used to determine whether the allegations are true. Also called a specific issue examination. See: Cooley-Towel, Pasini-Hill, & Patrick (2000);Dutton, (2000); English, Pullen, & Jones (1996); Heil, Almeyer, McCullar, & McKee (2000).


 Any form of non-physical contact with others, including games, conversations, written contact, or electronic forms of contact. Interaction assumes a more protracted contact than a simple greeting.

Maintenance/monitoring polygraph

A form of post-conviction sex offender testing (PCSOT) that is requested by a probation or parole officer to ensure compliance with the conditions of the offender’s release from prison; i.e., alcohol or drug issues, computer violations contact with children, etc. See: Cooley-Towel, Pasini-Hill, & Patrick (2000); Dutton (2000); English, Pullen, & Jones (1996); Heil, Ahlmeyer, McCullar, & McKee (2000).


Purposeful stimulation of one’s own genitals through the use of hands or other objects. 

Minor (child) 

Any person who has not yet reached his or her 18th birthday.

Mixed Issue(multi-facet) polygraph

Any polygraph examination during which an examinee could conceivably lie to one question while being truthful to another. Mixed issue examination formats are often used to investigate several distinct issues or questions in both event specific and screening polygraph tests. Incorporating several distinct issues in a test is considered a practical means of improving test sensitivity to various issues of concern, though there may be some degradation of the specificity of test data in the event of a positive test result. Sensitivity levels of mixed issue polygraph examinations indicate that negative test results should be considered conclusive. Mixed issue examinations are the most common form of testing in post-conviction polygraph testing of sexual offenders,

No opinion (inconclusive)

A polygraph examiner’s required diagnostic opinion when an examinee’s polygraph record contains physiological responses that are insufficient to render an opinion that there were significant reactions to the issue/s under investigation, and when there are also insufficient response criteria upon which to base a diagnostic opinion that there were no significant reactions indicative of deception.

No significant reactions (NSR/NSPR)

Procedurally synonymous with the term ‘no deception indicated.’ A polygraph examiner’s diagnostic opinion when an examinee’s physiological responses above baseline yield no significant quantity of response criteria that are correlated with deception regarding any of the questions during a polygraph examination. In consideration of the complexity of psychological and physiological mechanisms underlying sympathetic nervous system reactions to polygraph examination questions, this term is thought to represent a more empirically and ethically accurate description of the physiological chart data, and a more thoughtful alternative to traditional diagnostic opinions in polygraphy.

Objectifying behaviors

Looking at others as sexual objects with little or no regard for their personhood, feelings or the offender’s impact on them. May also include attempts to look inside people’s clothing in an attempt to see their sexual organs.

Physical contact

Refers to touching any part of another person with one’s hands or body, including handshaking, hugs, and incidental physical contact.

Peeping behaviors/voyeurism

Any attempts to see other’s bare sexual organs without their knowledge or permission, especially looking in windows, openings, or optical devices to do see into people's homes, bedrooms, or bathroom to view them naked, undressing/dressing, or engaging in sexual activities . Generally does not include behavioral attempts to look inside other people’s clothing, which is more accurately described as objectifying behavior.

Physical sexual contact

Synonymous and often used interchangeably with the term ‘sexual contact,’ though this term is sometimes useful to refer only to physical forms of sexual contact.


By definition, an instrument that simultaneously records two or more channels of data. The term now most commonly signifies the instrument and techniques used in the psychophysiological detection of deception (PDD), though polygraphs are also used in research in other sciences. In PDD the polygraph traditionally records physiologic activity with four sensors: blood pressure cuff, electrodermal sensors, and two respiration sensors. Some instruments also record finger pulse amplitude using a photoplethysmograph. Increasingly, peripheral activity sensors are also used,on modern polygraph instruments, in order to detect discrete somatic/peripheral nervous system that may affect the authenticity of the sympathetic nervous system data.

Pornography / sexually stimulating materials, including:

NOTE: Material things or objects are typically defined by their own attributes and not typically by human behavior. For example using a rock as a hammer (to drive a nail) does not cause the rock to “become” a hammer, any more than sitting on a desk or table causes the desk or table to “become” a chair. In this manner, mis-use of non-pornographic images or materials (i.e., in a pornographic manner, for sexual stimulation or masturbation purposes) that are not actually pornographic might be regarded as problem behaviors, but does not cause those images or materials to “become” pornography.


Final portion of a polygraph examination. The posttest could include a debriefing of an examinee who passed the examination, or an in-depth interview of an examinee who failed the examination. The posttest may or may not be a part of any given polygraph technique, and plays no part in the formulation of the results in any polygraph technique.


The earliest portion of the PDD examination process during which the examinee and examiner discuss the test, test procedure, examinee’s background and medical status, and the details of the test issues. The pretest interview also serves to prepare the examinee for testing. The length of the pretest interview ranges from 30 minutes to 2 hours or longer, depending on the complexity of the case, examiner-examinee interactions, and testing technique. All PDD techniques use pretest interviews.

Purposeful non-cooperation

Refers to any efforts to avoid being completely cooperative and truthful during a polygraph examination. Also used as a decision option when an examinee is suspected to have used countermeasures to alter the normal production of the physiological chart data.

Quality assurance (quality control)

All processes intended to assure the quality of work or product from a field or industry. Synonymous with the term ‘quality control.’

Quality control review (quality assurance review)

Synonymous with ‘quality assurance review.’ In polygraph testing, the product or process of reviewing the quality of a particular examination, or a particular examiner. Also refers to the written report or documents or protocol for reviewing the

Relative (family members)

Persons who are legally related by blood, marriage or adoption, including parents, grandparents, step-siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews. Some statutes refer to person related to oneself by the whole blood or by the half blood. For the purpose of polygraph testing, the concepts of ‘relative’ and ‘family member’ refer to anyone with whom an examinee may have a legal relationship.

Screening test (polygraph)

Any polygraph, conducted in the absence or a known event, incident, or allegation. These examinations may address a narrowly or broadly defined set of issues under investigation, and are very useful for ruling out problems for most subjects in attempt to maximize supervision and investigative resources for those who produce positive results. Negative test results on screening tests are considered conclusive, while positive results indicate a need for further development and/or investigation of information pertaining to the issues under investigation.


Test Sensitivity. The ability of a test, measure, or scale, to detect the presence of a an issue or phenomena of concern. In the field of polygraph testing, sensitivity determines the ability to notice or catch persons who are being deceptive. Sensitivity is a desirable test quality as false negative test results (in which problems or issues of concer remain undetected) may represent a serious threat to the well-being of others. Test sensitivity, in polygraph and other testing sciences, can be improved through the optimal adjustment of descision cut scores and through the breadth of the test questions and target issues. 

Sexual arousal 

Sexual thoughts, or fantasies to any degree that produces physiological sensation of sexual response (i.e., genital response) or any heightened cognitive or emotional awareness of one’s own sexuality.

Sexual contact

Rubbing or touching another person’s sexual organs (i.e., breasts/chest area, buttocks, vagina, penis) either bare (under clothing) or over clothing if done for the purpose of evoking sexual arousal or sexual gratification of oneself or the other person. Sexual contact may also include causing or allowing another person to touch one’s own sexual organs either over or under the clothing, if done for the purpose of sexual arousal or gratification. The term physical sexual contact is sometimes used interchangeably (though referring only to physical forms of sexual contacts) and may be used to improve some individuals’ abilities to provide clear and unequivocal answers to polygraph questions. May also refers to sexual hugging or kissing of another person, though not to normal (culturally endorsed) hugging or kissing of one’s parents, children, or family members in the context of non-sexual greeting or affection.

The term ‘sexual contact,’ in its broadest sense, also encompasses non-physical forms of sexualized attention towards others including exposing one’s bare genitals to another for sexual purposes, attempts to see or view another persons bare sexual organs for sexual arousal, and other serious boundary violations such as stealing, borrowing or masturbating with clothing or underwear or undergarments belonging to others. 

NOTE: Behavior is typically not defined by an individual’s motive. It is worth noting that there are other motivations, besides sexual arousal, for touching the sexual organs of another person (i.e., changing diapers, bathing, medical care or emergencies).

Sexual history disclosure

A sex offender's written account of his or her entire history of sexual contacts with others, sexual behaviors, and sexual offenses. Should be reviewed with the treatment provider, supervision team, and team prior to the sexual history polygraph.

Sexual history polygraph

A form of post conviction sex offender testing (PCSOT) which entails an in-depth look at the entire life cycle of an offender and his or her sexual behaviors up to the date of criminal conviction. Sometimes referred to as a disclosure examination. See: Cooley-Towel, Pasini-Hill, & Patrick (2000); Dutton, (2000); English, Pullen, & Jones (1996); Heil, Ahlmeyer, McCullar, & McKee (2000).

Significant reactions (SR/SPR)

Procedurally synonymous with the term ‘deception indicated.’ A polygraph examiner’s required diagnostic opinion when an examinee’s physiological responses above baseline meet the established threshold for a reliable diagnosis of deception on the part of an examinee towards any of the questions during a polygraph examination. In consideration of the variety of unknown issues underlying observable reactions, this term is thought to represent a more empirically and ethically accurate description of the physiological chart data, and a more thoughtful alternative to traditional diagnostic opinions in polygraphy.

Specific issue polygraph/single issue polygraph 

Any screening or diagnostic polygraph intended to investigate a narrowly defined set of issues. A specific issue polygraph examination, almost always administered in conjunction with a criminal investigation, addresses a single issue of concern. Specific issue (single issue) polygraph are considered to have improved diagnostic validity due to the internal consistency of the test under circumstances when a test subject cannot conceivable lie to one question while being truthful to another. Sometimes called a specific by polygraph practitioners to differentiate from pre-employment or periodic testing. 


 Test Specificity. The ability of a test measure, or scale, to report a postitive result only in response to the specific issue of concern. In the field of polygraph testing, specificity determines the ability to positively rule-out or eliminate as subjects all persons who do not represent or express the issue of concern (investigation). Positive results may become a basis for action, in medical and social sciences, to the degree that the test is specific to the issues of concern (i.e., robust and immune from returning a positive result in response to any issue not under investigation). 


Threats (threats of harm) 

Any effort (verbal or non-verbal) to communicate a real or implied potential for harm to a person. Refers to threats of any bodily harm or injury, threats to use a weapon, including displaying or brandishing a weapon, or brandishing one’s fists. Displays of anger may constitute a threat of harm against a victim, who may perceive the need to cooperate in order to avoid further harm.


 Refers to a person who is asleep, or substantially unaware of one’s surroundings, even if not completely unconscious. Could be due to alcohol or drug intoxication, tiredness or general mental status.


 Refers to underage for lawful consent for sexual contact. Colorado specifies that persons under age 15 cannot legally consent to sexual contact with an adult, while persons age 16 or 17 cannot lawfully consent to sexual contact with an adult who is 10 or more year older than himself or herself.


 In post-conviction polygraph testing of sexual offenders, refers to persons who were subjected to illegal or abusive sexual contact. It is assumed that many sex offenders have a history of sexual offenses against multiple victims in addition to some history of consensual sexual contact. Some offenders will present histories of sexual contacts or sexual activities that are considered unhealthy or unsafe, though not unlawful (e.g., infidelity behaviors, casual sexual contact, sexual contact while intoxicated though not unconscious, rough sex activities, role-plays, etc.)

NOTE: (labels vs. description): attempts to account for the nature and extent of sexual offenses against a victim are inherently limited by language-based definitions of words, terms and concepts. Over-reliance on individual words or labels to convey an adequate description of events invites argument and dissension about the exact meaning of individual words or labels. It is preferable to provide event-related information in descriptive detail that does not depend on the connotative, denotative, or stipulated definitions of individual words. Such an approach more adequately conveys the events and their potential impact on the individuals involved.

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Disclaimer: The information provided within this web site is intended for general information purposes only. Although every effort has been made to provide accurate information, readers of this information should be prepared to independently review and validate all information sources. Mr. Nelson is not an attorney or paralegal and cannot offer legal advice. The information provided herein shal NOT be construed as intended to represent any clinical or expert consulation regarding any individual case, though Mr. Nelson can provide such consulation if desired.

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