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Electrocardiography in the 1940s
Asami, Viewfinder, Akihito
hati_skoll wrote in little_details
I've wiki-ed this, and I've read what I could find regarding electrocardiography's history on:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electrocardiography
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Willem_Einthoven
http://en.ecgpedia.org/wiki/A_Concise_History_of_the_ECG

I think the problem doesn't lie in those sites, it probably lies in me. There were some rather technical terms here, and I think I didn't understand half of it, and I wasn't able to competently visualize how the ECG works in the 1940s.

In the piece I'm currently working on, there's a scene set in the 1940s, soviet Russia. It's also an urban fantasy, so there's an alternate history  that ties in with our own version. Basically, the protagonist is a Fox-shifter, immortal, and he's being tortured at the cruel mercy of a fellow Fox. Right now, they're trying to break his will, trying to get him to co-operate, and in my mind he's hooked onto an ECG that monitors his heart rate, so that they can tell if he's lying, or if he's feeling any particularly strong emotion. So that they can use whatever he feels strongly about against him.

In my mind, the ECG works like the version we have today, with the electronic graph and the little beeps. I belatedly realized that the version back then should be different from what we have now. I've read up that there used to be the soaking of limbs into saline solution, but was it still so in the 1940s?

A huge thank you in advance for help rendered!

frankly the heart isn't all that responsive to lying or emotions, esp. given that this is a trying circumstance to begin with. unless this is different for your foxes, you might want to select another technology entirely. (the standard, which is also not very good, is galvanic skin response.)

Thanks for the advice. I've looked Galvanic Skin Response up, and it says on Wiki it isn't quite credible either, especially for psychopaths, not that my protagonist is one. At this rate, I think I might invent a new sort of technology myself, that has something to do with magic or psychic powers or the like. Thanks for the input!

The electrocardiograph actually hasn't changed much at all since Einthoven's work in the first decade of the 20th century. The boxes have got a bit prettier and we use adhesive pads with clips instead of gel and metal suction cups but that's about all.

However, if all you are doing is monitoring heart rate, then you could do that just as easily with the fingertips. And the previous commenter is right - the heart rate doesn't correlate well to lying. Most polygraphs use a variety of inputs but they all rely on the sympathetic response ("fright, fight, flight") of a relatively normal and untrained person. There is no reason that your alternate-universe villains couldn't use a galvanometer (for skin) and a magnifying glass (for the iris) as well as or instead of the ECG.

If my protagonist isn't exactly normal, and more than used to lying, would that affect the results of the galvanometer results in any way?

It might dampen the response some, but it depends - if he is being asked questions that he has anticipated and prepared answers to, then he may be able to control his response quite well. If he is suddenly asked a question that he hadn't expected AND that means something to him (that is, it evokes an emotional response) then he might get caught.

In fact his best defence would be to start out being nervous (deliberately working himself up) to give an abnormally high baseline reading, then if they ask him the anticipated questions he will relax a bit, the meters will show a reduction in sympathetic responses and the interrogators may interpret this as a negative ("innocent") response. And that's not an original idea, I remember Harry Harrison using it in one of his Deathworld books. It's almost certainly been used in real life, but I don't know how effective it would be with an experienced interrogator.