In comic books, on TV, and now in her own blockbuster movie, beloved superhero Wonder Woman famously uses her Golden Lasso of Truth to elicit honest answers from anyone in its grip.
In real life, behavioral experts, psychologists, and law-enforcement officers similarly employ mechanical “lie detector” devices to separate authentic statements from phony claims made by subjects under interrogation.
Now here’s a fact so odd that you’d think it couldn’t pass either such test: One eccentric genius invented both of these history-making milestones.
Born in 1893, William Moulton Marston was a Harvard-trained psychologist, lawyer, and university professor. His work focused largely on dominance and submission, with a keen eye turned toward differences between males and females in such contexts. Key among Marston’s theories is that women tended to be more honest than men and, using science, he set out to prove it.Initially, inspiration struck the psychologist after Elizabeth Holloway Marston, his wife, pointed out that “when she got mad or excited, her blood pressure seemed to climb.”
Believing that active deception causes quantifiable anxiety in humans, then, Marston created the systolic blood-pressure test. He employed a stethoscope and a blood-pressure cuff to successfully measure the physiological activity of subjects who responded to questions with false answers.
Private investigator and polygraph expert Daniel Ribacoff explains, “He used medical instruments such as the blood-pressure machine in correlation to the human body’s reaction to lying versus telling the truth. By measuring the reactions, he became one of the founding fathers of the polygraph instrument. He first measured the reactions in 1915.”
Subsequently, in 1921, John Augustus Larson used Marston’s findings and techniques as essential components of his new invention, the polygraph. As such, Marston’s premise proved workably accurate: “The body does not lie!”
Still, a lie detector does not actually reveal what a subject is thinking when they get nervous about what they’re saying. That unknowable inner reality fascinated Marston the most — particularly if that inner reality belonged to a woman.
As an early feminist, Marston championed women’s causes such as the suffrage campaign to earn the right to vote. He also concluded that a matriarchal society would ultimately supersede all existing governments, leading to peace on earth through (female) dominance and (male) submission.
According to Marston, women could — and would — eventually control politics, money, and culture once they fully seized the potential of their own powers of sexual manipulation and, above all, love. When the ladies finally took charge, Marston proposed, all the war, violence, and anger of men would be forever subjugated by the irresistible superiority of female love.
On top of all this, Marston lived with both his wife and his mistress, journalist Olive Byrne. He even raised families with both romantic partners under one roof. So this guy was all kinds of a pioneer.
In 1940, Olive Byrne interviewed Marston for Family Circle magazine about what he saw as the enormous educational potential of comic books. Shortly thereafter, All-American Publications, the forerunner of DC Comics, hired Marston to be a consultant.
As with the lie detector, Elizabeth Holloway Marston directly inspired her husband. She suggested that a true and equal alternative to Superman, Batman, and other popular comic stars would be a female superhero who overwhelmed adversaries with specifically female powers. You can be sure that Marston was on board with that notion.
Working from his long-standing vision of an Amazonian utopia, in 1941 Marston created the character he first called “Suprema” by combining traits of both Elizabeth and Olive. He also tapped into the spirit of the women’s suffrage movement and the simultaneously arousing and imposing physical attributes of the era’s “pin-up girls,” particularly those painted by artist Alberto Vargas. Ribacoff says, “He was very progressive for his day in women’s rights…. He was well-versed in Roman and Greek mythology and [Wonder Woman’s] traits and powers come from those myths.”Marston further empowered this goddess-among-mortal men — who was quickly renamed Wonder Woman — with a flawless lie-detector apparatus. Wonder Woman’s Golden Lasso, fashioned from the girdle of Aphrodite, instantly made anyone it was wrapped around tell the truth. Therefore, Wonder Woman didn’t have to physically pummel her opponents. She simply had to, well, tie them up and demand answers. As Ribacoff points out, “The Lasso of Truth mixes his polygraph instrument with mythical power.”
Once again, Marston’s fixation on dominance and submission, along with his own unconventional sexuality, figured profoundly into his creation.
In October 1941, All-American Publications debuted Wonder Woman in All-Star Comics #8. The rest is herstory. And on the tech side, Ribacoff says, “Modern polygraphs still measure the various reactions of the human body that were first pioneered by Marston.”
To date, science has not yet replaced the polygraph with a Golden Lasso of Truth, but to say it might not one day be possible — well, that would be a lie.
Main photo: Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman [Wikimedia Commons]