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What is narcoanalysis?

NARCOANALYSIS WAS recently in the news when Moninder Singh Pandher and his servant Surendra Koli, the two accused in the gruesome serial killing of children in Noida, were to undergo narcoanalysis tests. It has also been dubbed as the ?Truth Serum? which breaks down barriers of lies and reveals the ?true? picture. But can something come so close to extracting truth for crimes committed by psychopaths?

india Updated: Feb 06, 2007 14:42 IST

NARCOANALYSIS WAS recently in the news when Moninder Singh Pandher and his servant Surendra Koli, the two accused in the gruesome serial killing of children in Noida, were to undergo narcoanalysis tests. It has also been dubbed as the ‘Truth Serum’ which breaks down barriers of lies and reveals the ‘true’ picture. But can something come so close to extracting truth for crimes committed by psychopaths?

The word narcoanalysis has its roots in the Greek word ‘narco’ meaning to numb. In this, a sleeplike state is induced by barbiturates or other drugs. This is done to release repressed feelings, thoughts, or memories. Under the influence of the drugs the recipient becomes communicative and shares his thoughts without hesitation. The recipient is likely to lose his inhibition, and therefore he is more likely to tell the truth.

This is not a new method. Psychiatric patients are routinely administered this treatment. In this technique, the patient or the accused as the case may be is initially put at ease. Photographs and statements relevant to the particular crime are presented to the subject so as to stimulate his/her brain and encourage a reaction.

In narcoanalysis, a controlled dosage of the drug is administered which will enable the person to be in a state of disinhibition (a state when the person has crossed inhibition) as long as the task of obtaining revelations requires. The drug is administered to the subject after taking his consent. The drug that is used is harmless, similar to the one used during surgery.

Its effect wears out in 30 minutes and the residue gets washed off after 48 hours. The important question relevant to the investigation is usually kept for the last.

The psychiatrist using these ‘truth’ drugs in diagnosis and treatment of the mentally ill, is primarily concerned with psychological truth or psychological reality rather than empirical fact (which is what police is looking for in the Nithari killings). A patient’s incorrect beliefs are reality for him, and an accurate account of these fantasies and delusions, can be the key to recovery.

One might wonder if such a test violates the accused persons rights, specifically the protection against self-incrimination.  In this context the Bombay High Court ruled that subjecting a person to physical tests involving minimal bodily harm “such as narcoanalysis, lie detector tests, and brain mapping did not violate their constitutional rights” (in reference to the infamous fake stamp paper scandal).

This facility is presently available only in the states of Karnataka and Gujarat at Bangalore and Ahmedabad respectively Despite the hype created by the media about narcoanalysis, the reality is that no magical results can be produced by truth serum.

The drugs, by disrupting defensive patterns, may sometimes be helpful in interrogation, but even under the best conditions they will elicit an output which is partially contaminated by deception, fantasy, garbled speech, etc. A major vulnerability they produce in the subject is a tendency to believe he has revealed more than he has and this can be used by the interrogator for subsequent interrogation of the subject under normal circumstances.
(The author is a

psychologist and heads the twin departments of psychology and social work at BSSS. He can be contacted at drvinaymishra@rediffmail.com)