PoP! Science: The Lasso of Truth

Welcome to PoP! Science, the science column inspired by comic books, movies, video games, and general pop culture. Learn how science fiction is influenced by science fact. Make your day just a little bit more geeky.

Videos are hard, so this PoP! Science comes to you in word form (sorry). So, science question: Why does Wonder Woman have a Lasso of Truth?

In simple terms, the Lasso of Truth is an infinitely long and strong lasso owned by Wonder Woman that compels anyone caught in it to tell the truth. In the various incarnations of the Wonder Woman character it has had different additional powers, but this is the one that rules them all, the power of truth.

But why truth?

lasso-of-truth-header

Wonder Woman was created in the 1940s by Charles Moulton, which was the pen name of inventor and psychologist William Moulton Marston. Marston’s early research was on the correlation between blood pressure and deception. His wife, Elizabeth, suggested that her blood pressure would climb when she was angry or excited, which spurred his research.

Marston helped to create an early polygraph machine based upon his blood pressure hypothesis. In an effort to popularize his testing methods, he often performed lie detector tests for popular magazines and advertisements.

In 1940, Marston was serving as an educational consultant for Detective Comics, and asked the head of DC comics why there weren’t any female superheros. Marston was tasked with creating this hero and came up with Wonder Woman (with lots of help and influence from his wife Elizabeth and lover Olive Byrne, who was the physical influence for Wonder Woman). After a small feature in All Star Comics in 1941, she debuted in Sensation Comics #1 with her gauntlets and Lasso of Truth. While it’s never explicitly stated that Marston used his polygraph machine as the basis for the Lasso of Truth, his search for a truth-telling device is obviously a contributor to the magical item.

While Marston believed that blood pressure was a large part of the lie detecting process, he only had part of the puzzle. John Agustus Larson is credited as putting all of the different “tells” of the human body together to create one comprehensive lie-detecting machine.

Although we refer to a polygraph “machine”, polygraph tests actually consist of a series of components that measure different body responses. Modern polygraphs use a computer and software to monitor the data.

polygraphmachine

The components that measure bodily functions include two pneumographs, which measure the subject’s respiratory rate. A blood pressure cuff monitors blood pressure and heart rate. Lastly, sensors called galvanometers are attached to the subject’s fingers to measure the skin’s ability to conduct electricity. The fingertips are a good measure of how much the body is sweating in response to stress.

While polygraph machines can help determine someone’s reactions to certain events or questions, polygraph tests are controversial, as they still can’t prove a definitive yes or no in regards to lying. False-positive tests, that claim that a person is lying when they aren’t, are not unheard of. There have also been cases of beating the polygraph test. Even the Mythbusters have deemed deceiving a polygraph test “plausible”.

Maybe that’s why Marston came up with the Lasso of Truth years ago. While we mere mortals can never fully discern the truth from lies, Wonder Woman, with her magical lasso, can. Thank you, Wonder Woman, for your truth-telling magical rope.

 

For further reading:

http://books.google.com/books?id=USg-j9esZagC&lpg=PA292&ots=eL7Vd4wTR4&dq=elizabeth%20marston%20%22wonder%20woman%22&pg=PA295#v=onepage&q=elizabeth%20marston%20%22wonder%20woman%22&f=false

http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=7921

http://people.howstuffworks.com/lie-detector1.htm

http://dsc.discovery.com/tv-shows/mythbusters/mythbusters-database/beat-lie-detection-test.htm

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Mary Knize, Captain Painway, "C-Pain", and formerly Mary Staggs, was Panels on Pages' May 2010 Fangirl of the Month and is a former rollergirl. When she's not busy writing, she's probably playing a video game. She also loves Wikipedia and science.

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  1. matweller says:

    Very cool article, thanks!

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