A physiology manual for pdd lifelong learners of the science (Part 1) Joel Reicherter1 and Mark Handler

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(Part 1)

Joel Reicherter1 and Mark Handler2


Many practitioners of the science of psychophysiological detection of deception (PDD) have entered the profession in mid-career from disciplines other than the life sciences or biology. Typically, many entering PDD come from the criminal justice or related professions with limited exposure to the life sciences. In polygraph science, the investigator must record and evaluate visceral physiological data from selected body organ systems regulated by the brain. This means the polygraph professional must gain and maintain a sufficient understanding of the basis of physiologic changes they are attempting to measure. These physiological parameters required for PDD assessment are typically studied in the life science disciplines.

Despite the general public’s view, there is no metric of lie detection. PDD science can, however, provide a statistical measure of the probability of truthful or deceptive responses to relevant questions concerning a matter in question. The Cardiovascular System (heart), Integumentary System (skin), and Respiratory System (breathing) regulated by the Central Nervous System need to be reasonably understood by the polygraph examiner to be an effective decision maker in PDD science. Terms written in boldface type in this manual are of increased importance. They are reviewed in general terms in the Overview, Part 1 section and more thoroughly described in the Detailed Section, Part 2. Students and lifelong learners may want to ensure they have an especially good grasp on these terms.

This project began in 2005 when one author Joel Reicherter (JR) shared the outline for his 62-hour physiology course, arguably the most comprehensive and challenging physiology courses taught in any PDD training regimen, with the other author Mark Handler (MH). MH took the outline and developed what later became the “detailed” section of the current document. The authors felt readers would benefit from a less detailed overview and JR first-authored that section of this document. There were two intentions: First, to create a document that could be used as a foundation for review of this sometimes difficult subject—a physiology-light – and, second, to provide the more motivated or curious examiner a tool with which one might get deeper “into the weeds.”

The general outline of the overview should follow fairly closely with the Detailed Section3. There may be some overlap of the information in those sections, as editing out all redundant material may have left one or the other difficult to understand. We ask the reader’s pardon and tolerance for redundancy. We also ask for errors to be brought to our attention, and accept the responsibility a priori for errors or omissions.

We believe a professional’s, and a collective profession’s, learning should never stop. We have developed this document for those students, examiners and schools who share our ideals. We hope the reader finds it useful and hope to be able to update it as we continue to learn, and as time permits.


In a healthy body, the body-systems work together in harmony in a balanced internal physiological environment of wellness. This is described as being in a homeostatic state of equilibrium, otherwise known as homeostasis, or as a medical term, in a “state of wellness.” If an external circumstance disrupts this balance within the organ systems, a state of sickness might develop. However, routine changing environments such as exercise, compared to the relaxing state of reading a book, will naturally cause an alteration in the homeostatic balance in the body systems. The physiological adjustments made in homeostatic balance within the organ systems were recently described in the PDD setting by Mark Handler as allostasis, which is described in the Detailed Section under Homeostasis and Allostasis.

All physiological activities addressing living activities follow basic laws of chemistry. Much of the chemistry occurring in the human body is beyond the scope of this manual, but there are a few important concepts which must be addressed to provide a fundamental understanding for those learning PDD science.

To begin our study, all matter on earth is composed of only 92 naturally occurring different atoms, also described as elements. The living body is composed of 26 of that total. Examples of these atoms, you no doubt have heard, include hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen and oxygen. These four elements constitute about 96% of the body. Calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur, sodium, chlorine, magnesium and iron constitute 3.8%. The remaining 14 elements are classified as trace elements because collectively they constitute only 0.2%. All elements are typically represented with one or two letters from the English language alphabet. For instance, C represents carbon, or Ca represents calcium.

Briefly, these atoms are composed of particles called protons, neutrons and electrons. The total number of protons and neutrons in each atom are found in the center of the atom (nucleus) and is referred to as the atomic mass. The lightest in atomic mass is hydrogen, which has only 1 proton, and 0 neutrons. The heaviest atom is uranium, which has 92 protons and 146 neutrons. The protons have a positive charge compared to neutrons, which have no charge. Orbiting in prescribed areas or shells around the nucleus are negatively charged electrons. Atoms usually have equal numbers of positive protons and negative electrons organized in the various areas (shells) around the center of the atomic nucleus. This arrangement of positive and negative charges makes the atom neutral. More information about the architectural design can be found in the detail section of this work, or in basic chemistry or anatomy and physiology texts. For basic understanding of PDD, however, it won’t be necessary to research additional chemistry concepts unless you are inspired to do so.

Since there are multiple forces acting on these atoms, based on the number and location of electrons in an atom, sometimes electrons are pulled away or attracted to another atom. When that happens, an atom that loses an electron is left in a positive state, which is referred to as a positive ion or cation. If the atom gains an electron it is referred to as a negative ion or anion. Some of the most important ions you will see in physiology are sodium, potassium, chlorine (also called chloride), calcium and hydrogen. The symbol notation will be Na+, K+, Cl-, Ca++ and H+ etc. The + sign indicates a loss of an electron, the – sign indicates a gain of an electron. The Ca++ symbol indicates two electrons have been lost. These ions, and others, play significant roles in Nervous, Cardiovascular, Respiratory, and Sweat Gland function, and ultimately in the physiological events that occur during PDD examinations.

Other forces of physics and chemistry will cause atoms to share electrons in the outer shell resulting in a sharing (covalent) bond between two or more atoms forming molecules. Water, carbohydrates, and proteins are good examples of molecules. In other cases, one or more electrons will be liberated from one atom and received by another, resulting in a positive ion and negative ion. In this case, the attraction between the two ions would be called an ionic bond forming a compound but not a molecule. Salt (NaCl) would be a good example. Salt could be represented Na+ Cl- but for convenience, the + and – are often not displayed.


All living things, including the human body, are organized into cells which perform living activities. In more advanced life forms, various kinds of cells are organized into tissues, which perform more complex functions than a single cell does. Tissues are organized with each other to form organs, which perform more complex functions than does a tissue. Organs are organized with each other to form systems, which perform even more complex functions. Finally, the integrated mix of eleven different systems forms the human being organism.

As a model, consider the human being organism as our nation. The states would represent the systems, counties would represent the organs, cities and towns would represent the tissues, local neighborhoods would represent cells, and the people would represent the atoms, ions, and molecules.

Cells: View the cells as factories. Depending on the nature of the cell (factory), the factories, with its workers (molecules and ions), can produce a variety of products, useful to the local economy or the larger domains (counties, states, nation). Like any industry, raw materials must be delivered to the factory by trucks (blood), pass through the factory gates (cell membrane), converted to a product (proteins or other complex molecules), then shipped out through the factory gates (cell membrane) to other destinations by trucks (blood). As in any factory, the workers need to be organized and directed by the foremen and company directors (enzymes and hormones).

In all functional factories, the specific ways in which products are produced depend on the factory’s organization, the ways raw materials and building supplies enter the factory, and how the products manufactured are packaged and shipped.

Just as a factory has a central decision making office, so does a cell. The nucleus of the cell is where the DNA, in the chromosomes, stores all the blue prints to make the product. Of course the blue print plans can’t make the product in the office. The plans must be sent to the assembly line in the factory (various organelles located in the cytoplasm).

Tissues: Tissues are aggregates of different kinds of cells working together for a common and more complex purpose. Using the cell model above, visualize one factory manufacturing wheels, another fenders, another leather seats, another windshields, and another carpeting. All these products are shipped to the factory that assembles all the manufactured parts, producing an automobile (Tissue).

Organ: Now imagine factories which are producing sedans, SUV’s, and sport cars, other factories building trucks and vans, and additional factories manufacturing planes, trains, etc. (Organs).

System: All the various vehicles transport people or products from one place to another within the nation’s transportation system. The human body not only has a transportation system (Circulatory System), it also has ten other specialized systems.

Organism: Now consider the combination of a national transportation system, medical system, farming system, educational system, housing system, clothing system, police and military system (for protection), etc., managed and directed by a central government (Brain and Endocrine System). All together it’s a nation (Human Being).

Now that we’ve laid out the working concept of human body organization, we are ready to explore those body systems that most directly respond in a way that produce the most significant signal values in PDD assessment.


Now that you have been introduced to human body organization, it is important to study, in a little bit more detail, the physiological events of those systems specifically used in the diagnosis of PDD examinations. You can always explore more details of systemic physiology in the expanded section of this manual or the texts listed in the reference section.

The most significant cell in the nervous system—the “star” of the show— is the neuron. Although there are other support cells associated with nervous system function, much like support characters who play vital roles in supporting the show’s star in a Broadway Show, we must focus most of our attention on neurons, with only an occasional reference to the support cells.

There are three main neuron stars in this show, Association (interneurons), Sensory Neurons, and Motor Neurons. The motor neuron has been the most studied in neurophysiology because of its size, rather elegant design, and relative easy access to researchers. Please refer often to the incorporated diagrams in the Detailed Section for better understanding.

Ions of various types can be separated in a discriminating way between the extracellular (interstitial) fluid and the internal cellular environment due to the highly significant selectively permeable membrane design of neurons and other cells. Many physiologists consider the extracellular fluid as the ocean, and human cells as all the living organisms in that ocean.

Ions such as Sodium (Na+), Potassium (K+) and Chloride (Cl-), (Chlorine before gaining an electron), can move in an electrical field. Ions capable of this movement are known as electrolytes. When Neurons use electrolytes to conduct a current-like impulse, it is known as an action potential. Neurons use action potentials to communicate and direct all body organs to perform their duties for the ultimate useful function of the body. Neurons, therefore, are referred to as excitatory cells. When your physician requests the laboratory draw your blood for analysis, the test will likely include an evaluation of your electrolytes. A blood test for electrolytes is simple and important. An imbalance of electrolytes can be caused by many factors including diet, medications, life style, etc. If the electrolyte levels are significantly imbalanced, all body physiology, including nervous system, cardiovascular system, respiratory system and sweat gland activity, can be significantly affected.

A resting potential must exist before neurons can conduct an action potential. Before a current can be created to turn on a light, a resting potential must exist to draw on the battery’s stored power. The resting potential of the battery is quantified into units called volts. Since a neuron is so tiny, the unit of power is measured in millivolts (mV). Although batteries and neurons share similar concepts of stored energy, there are differences between them as to how that energy is converted into a current (amps, in electricity) or an action potential in neurons.

Cell voltage is calculated by measuring the difference between the charged molecules and ions on the outside of the cell membrane compared to the inside of the cell membrane. The resting potential difference in most neurons is about -70 mV. (Convention dictates that the resting potential, measured in mV, compares the inside of the cell to the outside. If the voltage was measured from the other side of the membrane it would be +70 mV.) In the heart and some specialized cells, the resting potential may be -90 mV or some other voltage. K+ is the most important ion for establishing resting potential. The selective permeability of the neuron membrane permits some of the K+ ions to diffuse out of the cell. As that happens, the cell is left less positive, or in effect, negative. As more potassium diffuses outward at a declining rate, the positive nature of the ion is electrochemically attracted back into the cell. There will come a point when the diffusional force driving K+ out of the cell falls into equilibrium with the electrochemical force to bring it back (like a tug-of-war game at a standstill). At about -70 mV, those forces are equal, which establishes the Resting Potential.

A visual description of sensory and motor neurons can be viewed on subsequent pages in the detailed section. The most significant parts of a neuron, in order of conduction of a nerve impulse, are the dendrites, cell body, axon and telodendria (synaptic terminals branches). For simplicity sake, many details of how a neuron generates and conducts impulses (action potentials) will not be described in this manual, but can be read in any of the associated texts listed in the reference section.


A neuron will receive a stimulus signal of many different types on the dendrites or cell body, which may alter membrane receptors (chemical gates) to permit Na+ to enter the cell and move toward the axon. When enough Na+ ions reach the axon, the voltage difference across the axon cell membrane will fall from -70 mV to about -55 mV. When that voltage occurs, voltage gates--special molecules in the axon cell membrane sensitive to that voltage--will open. This forms a channel, which allows many more Na+ in the extra cellular fluid to rush into the axon because the inside of the axon is negative and the concentration of sodium is lower than the outside. In a millisecond, the inside of the axon next to the cell body will become +30 mV. This change in transmembrane voltage from -70mV to +30 mV is referred to as depolarization. Sodium ions that just rushed into the axon will move to the adjacent area because the rest of the axon is still resting at -70 mV. This reduces the membrane potential to -55 mV, causing additional adjacent voltage sensitive channels to open. More Na+ then rushes into the cell, causing that spot on the axon to depolarize. These events keep reproducing in a manner very similar to knocking down a row of dominos. Once it starts, it can’t be stopped. In neurophysiology, these repeating events are the action potential. Once it starts, just as with the domino model, it’s self-generating in an all or none fashion. The firing of a gun is another model reflecting this concept. The bullet is not discharged until the pressure requirement of the firing pin onto the primer is reached. If the pressure is inadequate, the bullet is not discharged. The minimum stimulus needed to engage the action potential within a cell is often referred to as the threshold stimulus.

After the Na+ enters the cell, the neuron will pump out the Na+ and pull K+ back to their original positions so a new action potential can occur. This can occur 80 to 100 times per second. The chemical mechanism of the sodium/potassium pump is beyond the scope of this manual, and therefore, won’t be described.

Some action potential needs to occur as quickly as possible, such as in a pain pathway. Therefore, neuron axons are wrapped in a special fatty membrane known as myelin, which is produced by Schwann cells or other special glial cells. Visualize wrapping a piece of paper around a pipe, then another layer next to the first wrap, but leaving a small space, and so on. This is what the Schwann cells do. As a result, the Na+ can only move into the cell at these spaces (nodes of Ranvier) between the Schwann cells. A string of hot dogs in the butcher shop may help you visualized the design. Observe the drawing in the detailed section of the manual. Since the depolarization can only occur at the nodes between the Schwann cell wrappings, the action potential effectively skips along the axon, known as saltatory conduction. The autoimmune disease multiple sclerosis (MS) results when the myelin is destroyed. Action potentials can’t occur normally, leaving the patient’s nervous system less effective.

When the action potential reaches the end of the axon, which may be less than a single mm in length, or up to one meter long, it spreads out like branches of tree. This branching pattern is referred to as telodendria. This allows the neuron to communicate with many other neurons. Any word with “telo” in the prefix means “end of”. Tiny bulbous terminals (end bulbs) are at the end of the telodendria. These terminals contain vesicles that store highly specialized molecules called neurotransmitters. The branching like design of the cell body are also called dendrites, but not telodendrites, as you note from the drawing in the Detailed Section.

You will also see that the terminal ends of the axon come intimately close--but don’t touch--the dendrites or cell body of the next neuron. This space or gap is known as the synapse. When the action potential reaches the end bulb, a complex reaction takes place causing a neurotransmitter to be released into the synaptic cleft (see diagram). The neurotransmitter will connect (like a key in a lock) to a special receptor on the post synaptic dendrite or cell body membrane causing a channel to open. Depending on the neurotransmitter and receptor combination, different ions could be allowed to enter the cytoplasm of the post synaptic neuron. Usually it will be either Na+ or Cl- . If Na+ enters, the post synaptic neuron will generate a new action potential. If Cl- enters the post synaptic neuron, it will not generate a new action potential because the inside becomes more negative (inhibitory). When the inside voltage of the cell is more negative, it is further away from the threshold voltage and an action potential is less likely (it is inhibited). Both excitatory and inhibitory management is necessary for proper management of the nervous system. Think of managing the operation of an automobile. There will always be a mixture of gas pedal and brake to properly operate the car. Unfortunately, sometimes accidents occurs when the gas pedal or brake are not properly coordinated. Guess what? Sometimes the proper neurotransmitters and receptors are not engaged properly resulting in bad behavior or inadequate regulation of body organs, which cannot be maintained adequately.

In PDD and other psychological sciences, several of the most important neurotransmitters to be understood are: Norepinephrine (NE), Acetylcholine (Ach), Dopamine, Serotonin, Gamma aminobutyric Acid (GABA) and Glutamate. Psychopharmacology addresses the issues of depression, anxiety, hyperactivity and other behaviors. This science has become intensified in recent years as the physiology and control of these neurotransmitters have become better understood.

The widespread use and abuse of prescription drugs as well as the illicit drug consumption has become an increasing concern in PDD. No drug is known to be site-specific, that is alters the neurological effect only at the relevant question or only at the comparison question. But we are concerned that the use of drugs could make assessment of physiological response more difficult to evaluate. Also keep in mind that some subjects elect to not take their prescribed medications the day of the test, or they may use an excessive dose, thinking it will interfere with the examination. These self-medicating individuals are creating additional problems when they withhold their prescribed medications, such as a rebound effect when a drug is suddenly withdrawn without medical supervision.

Central Nervous System

The Central Nervous System (CNS) is composed of the brain and spinal cord. The brain is an exceedingly complex organ from any level of study. We must, therefore, approach this subject somewhat topically. More details of brain function are described in the Detailed Section.

The largest part of the brain is composed of the cerebrum which is divided into two hemispheres, often described as the right brain and left brain. The two hemispheres are connected by many axons collectively known as the corpus callosum, which allows one hemisphere to communicate with the other. Each hemisphere is characterized by bumps, gyri, and indentations, sulci. The brain is functionally segregated into lobes, described as frontal, parietal, occipital, and temporal. Considerable research has studied these areas of the brain and the role each plays in our behavior. These lobes are found in both the right and left hemisphere, but contribute different aspects of our personality and behavior. These behavior patterns are often described as brain lateralization. For instance, certain areas in the left hemisphere are more dedicated to language skills while the right hemisphere may be more involved with music or judging speed and distance. Needless to say, these are very interesting areas of study and will be addressed to some degree later.

The surface of the brain is the cortex and is typically described as gray matter because of the appearance. The gray matter is composed of billions of neurons with trillions of synaptic connections. The brain areas can assess many incoming signals through this network, and direct the body to respond appropriately.

The brain can receive direct signals (action potentials) from the 12 pairs of cranial nerves. Some of these cranial nerves are classified as sensory, such as the optic nerve, which conveys visual signals to the brain. Others may be motor, which carry outflow signals from the brain to various areas of the body. Other cranial nerves are mixed because they contain both sensory and motor axons. The cranial nerves have specific names and are often identified by Roman numerals. Of the twelve pairs of cranial nerves, the Vagus Nerve (number X) is the most important to PDD examiners. You will learn more about this nerve in the Detailed Section.

In the science of psychophysiology, the birthing mother of PDD, the prefrontal lobe of the cerebral cortex is considered the center of our cognitive skills. The limbic system, while not technically a system, is a functional group of selective areas, which channels all of the incoming signals into emotional assessments such as fear, anger, pleasure, sense of well-being, etc. Much of our personality is the product of the cognitive and emotional expression of these incoming signals. White matter is located under the brain’s cortex of gray matter. White matter is composed of myelinated axons, again named because of the appearance. Recall, a ”myelinated axon” is a term conveying the concept that action potentials are being conducted from one place in the body to another by way of salutatory conduction.

At the base of the brain is the brain stem, which is composed of several subdivisions. The most important is the medulla oblongata, or just “medulla” for short. The medulla is responsible for coordinating the outflow of action potentials to most of the body’s organs. The PDD examiner is recording this coordinating activity from the medulla and vagus nerve during a polygraph examination. The vegetative outflow from the brain stem, which includes the medulla, is regulated by the inputs from the cognitive and emotional areas of the brain.

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