UW-Stout News Story

Students research EEG-based lie detection during summer project

July 10, 2013

Trece Hopp looked like a character from a science fiction film.

Her head was almost completely covered with penny-size electrodiagnostic electrodes — 128 to be exact — with wires connecting them to form a sort of skull cap. She was surrounded by people wearing white lab coats.

Next to her, as she sat in a lab in Harvey Hall at University of Wisconsin-Stout, was a computer screen that showed the position of each electrode.

The 12- year-old Menomonie girl, a student at Menomonie Middle School, did have an acting role in a sense, but it wasn't for a film. She was a volunteer test subject for a summer university research project.

Trece Hopp, center. From left students Kayce Van Pelt of USC-Aiken, Micah Hurtt of USC-Aiken and Brettina Davis of UW-Stout.The experience may have looked scary, but Hopp didn't suffer any ill effects from her participation and all she had to do was tell a few lies.

Lie detection is at the heart of the study that got underway recently in the psychology department.

Four student researchers chosen for the project, two from UW-Stout and two from University of South Carolina-Aiken, conducted tests while working with Hopp and other volunteers for three weeks.

Three UW-Stout professors, Desiree Budd, Sarah Wood and Trece's mother, Jo Hopp, are guiding the project. Independent researcher Michael Donnelly of Sulcus Scientific Consulting also is participating.

During the three weeks, the four university students studied the brain systems that support lying and deception while using high-density electroencephalography, or EEG, equipment to examine brain wave activity.

EEG isn't commonly used to study lie detection. The most common lie detection test, the polygraph, measures changes in heart rate and skin conductivity.

The UW-Stout study is "based on claims about brain fingerprinting, which is a highly controversial use of EEG. Issues concerning the accuracy and use of brain fingerprinting are numerous," said Budd, who initiated the study.

Brain fingerprinting theorizes that a person processes known or relevant information differently than unknown or irrelevant information.

Brain wave activity from student researcher Micah Hurtt shows up on a computer screen.Trece Hopp and other volunteers hooked up to EEG machines were induced to tell two types of lies, using "stolen" Pokemon cards, to see if the brain has two systems for deception. The goal of the study is to determine if there could be another way to use EEG that avoids the pitfalls associated with current versions of brain fingerprinting, Budd said.

Positive experience

One of the four students, Kayce VanPelt of USC-Aiken, said the study and research process are invigorating.

"It was so interesting learning about how the lie detection process works, especially since crime and differentiating perpetrators from innocent bystanders is constantly an issue," she said.

"I realize how engaging research can be. I suppose some people could find working in a lab stuffy, but I thought all the labs at Stout equipped with machines that could measure your brain waves or physiological responses were intriguing. I now know that whether I continue to major in biology or switch to psychology I want to do research work in a lab," VanPelt said.

From left, Kayce VanPelt, Micah Hurtt, Daniel Comstock and Brettina Davis.The experience, VanPelt said, improved her basic research skills, taught her how to operate new equipment and how to professionally prepare, write and read research papers. "I know the experience provided me with the basics I need to continue with research and hopefully get into grad school," she said.

The other students are Micah Hurtt of USC-Aiken and UW-Stout's Daniel Comstock, of Eau Claire, and Brettina Davis, of Minneapolis.

The EEG project, a summer research experience for undergraduates, is part of a three-year, $400,000 National Science Foundation grant with USC-Aiken. The project will continue through the 2013-14 academic year at both schools, and the students hope to present their study results nationally.

The NSF grant, in the last year of the funding cycle, supports C-NERVE student research at both campuses. C-NERVE stands for cognitive-neuroscience education and research-valued experience.

Other research conducted through the grant will be presented in October at the Society for Psychophysiological Research Conference in Florence, Italy.

The C-NERVE Learning Community at UW-Stout was established in 2006 with a $135,000 NSF grant. The latest grant established the C-NERVE community at USC-Aiken.

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