September 13, 2011
Eyewitnessing science: Psychology professor to speak about science of police lineup identification
The evidence points to one conclusion: Gary Wells knows a thing or two about eyewitness identification in police lineups, and the Kansas State University community is about to get a lesson.
Wells, a distinguished professor of psychology at Iowa State University and K-State alumnus, will discuss his area of expertise in his lecture, "Using Psychological Science to Understand and Improve Eyewitness Identification Evidence," at 10:30 a.m. Friday, Sept. 16, in K-State's McCain Auditorium.
The lecture is part of the psychology department's 60th anniversary celebration. Wells also will receive an award recognizing him as the department's first distinguished alumnus. Jerry Frieman, psychology department head, said Wells' current and past studies have made him a leader and internationally recognized scholar in scientific psychology.
Currently, Wells is conducting two studies. In the first year of a four-year study funded by the National Science Foundation, he is seeking to examine what happens when the witness to a crime tries to identify a perpetrator after his or her memory has failed. He is also the lead researcher on a study that is gathering data from real eyewitnesses to serious crimes as they attempt to identify perpetrators through photo lineups.
Wells' expertise was recently used in a New York Times article about the New Jersey Supreme Court's recent decision to overhaul the state's rules for how judges and jurors treat evidence from police lineups.
"By next week, Dr. Wells will be quoted in newspapers throughout the country," Frieman said. "His research on eyewitness identifications in police lineups will revolutionize how they are conducted. This is a great opportunity for the K-State community to hear firsthand how he demonstrated the flaws in the current procedures."
While at K-State, Wells said he would speak about how his work has had a big impact in helping law enforcement across the U.S.
"I hope that the work stands as a model to encourage the justice system to be receptive to additional social science and to encourage social scientists to develop research programs that are useful for the justice system," he said.
In addition to being a distinguished professor, Wells holds the title of Stavish Chair in the Social Sciences at Iowa State. His studies on eyewitness memory are widely known and often cited, including in publications like Time Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, Wired Magazine and the New York Times, as well as many psychological journals. He has also appeared on programs like the CBS show "48 Hours" and NBC's "Today Show."
Wells has authored more than 175 articles and chapters, as well as two books focusing on the reliability of eyewitness identification. He has received more than $2 million in funding from the National Science Foundation for his research, and his findings have been incorporated into standard textbooks in psychology and law.
Wells was a founding member of the U.S. Department of Justice group that developed the first set of national guidelines for eyewitness evidence, and co-chaired the panel that wrote the Justice Department's training manual for law enforcement on eyewitness identification evidence, among many other accomplishments. He graduated from K-State with a bachelor's degree in psychology in 1973, which he said helped foster his love of intellectual discovery and set him on a successful life path.
"I still remember my first time coming to K-State as an undergraduate," Wells said. "Wide-eyed and ready to learn, K-State went beyond my expectations. I never would have thought that someday I would return to receive an award and give a talk. I feel honored."