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Lie-detector camera

A new heat-detecting camera can catch a liar in the act - at least 75% of the time, according to a small scientific study out today.

If additional tests confirm its ability, the lie-detector camera might one day be used by airport security to apprehend terrorists before they get on an airplane, says researcher James Levine of the Mayo Clinic.

But one critic questions whether the camera would ever be reliable enough to be used on a large scale, or whether it could spot someone who plans to commit a crime.

Levine's group reported their early findings in today's Nature.

Levine and his colleagues enlisted 20 U.S. Army recruits to help test the camera, which records the heat patterns that are created when blood rushes to the human face. The researchers told eight of the recruits in the study to commit a mock crime. They were told to stab a mannequin, rob it of $20, then lie about the "crime." The remaining 12 people in the study knew nothing about the fake crime.The researchers took all 20 people into an interrogation room. They asked them whether they had stolen $20 and then recorded their answers with a standard polygraph test and the new camera.

The camera caught six out of eight liars as they were lying - the same lie-detecting ability as the polygraph test. The camera also correctly identified 11 of the 12 people who were telling the truth - a slightly better rate than the polygraph.

The study is so small that it can't be used as proof of the camera's ability to catch a thief or a liar, Levine says. Still, he is hopeful that the camera is recording a subtle flushing of the face that may automatically occur when someone lies.

That flushing may not be caught by the naked eye, but the camera shows a bright red-orange-yellow zone that represents blood rushing to the eyes. "When someone lies, you get an instantaneous warming around the eyes," he says. Levine speculates that people who lie are afraid of getting caught. That fear triggers a primitive response to run away. Blood goes to the eyes so that the liar can more efficiently map out an escape route, he says.

Levine says it may take years before the camera would be ready for a test at a large U.S. airport.

Alan Zelicoff, a senior scientist at the Center for National Security and Arms Control at the Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, says that even if the camera works as well as it did in this study, it would mistakenly label lots of people as liars. At a busy U.S. airport, those mistakes could mean a thousand passengers a day who would get pulled aside by security - a move that would probably mean lots of missed flights and irate passengers, he says.

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