Emet Prize Laureates

Prof. Gershon Ben-Shakhar

Hebrew University of Jerusalem
2011 Laureates of Emet Prize

In Category: Social Sciences
In Field: Psychology

Psychophysiological detection

Prof. Gershon Ben-Shakhar

Jury Statement

“For his scientific research on orientating responses and habituation processes in humans and in the area of Psychophysiological detection which brought about breakthroughs in Israel and around the world.”


Was born in Jerusalem in 1942.

After his army service, he studied Psychology and Statistics at the Hebrew University, where he also received his MA and Ph.D degrees in Psychology. Upon completion of his MA, he was asked to create a testing unit at the Social Sciences Faculty in order to design an aptitude test battery and a selection system for students’ admissions to the Faculty. This test battery was soon adopted by all other faculties of the Hebrew University and eventually formed the foundation for a unified test (that has become known as “the psychometric test”) adopted by all the universities in Israel and administered by the National Institute of Tests and Measurement. While building the testing unit, he completed his Ph.D and specialized in Psychophysiology focusing on Orienting Responses and habituation processes in humans. He was attracted by the idea that basic research showing enhanced physiological responses to personally-significant information can be translated into an interesting and potentially important application – psychophysiological detection concealed information.

In 1976, after a post-doctoral period at Northwestern University where he specialized in Evaluation Research, Ben-Shakhar joined the Hebrew University Psychology Department as lecturer. He has since continued his research in Psychophysiology as well as in Educational and Psychological Testing. His studies on the Orienting Responses and Psychophysiological detection have been published in the leading journals in this area and in two books. Among other things, these studies led him to the conclusion that the prevailing method of polygraph (“Lie Detection”) tests is flawed and has no scientific validity. In a series of articles and book chapters he proposed to replace this method, designed to detect DECEPTION, with a method designed to detect CONCEALED INFORMATION that is well controlled and scientifically sound.

His efforts in this direction influenced the decision that polygraph tests would not serve as admissible evidence in Israeli criminal courts. Alongside his scientific research, Ben-Shakhar served in a number of administrative functions: Chairman of the HUJI Psychology Department (1987-1990); Dean of the HUJI Social Sciences Faculty (1992-1995); Pro-Rector of the HUJI (1995-1998) and President of the Open University of Israel (2003-2008). At the Open University he was able to implement his vision of higher education, stressing the need for both selective departments and universities as well as institutions accessible to all but maintaining high academic standards.