Law enforcement lines up for his research

Most TV police dramas go something like this. An eyewitness scans a photo lineup and positively identifies the suspect. Faced with this evidence, the suspect admits guilt. Case closed. Unfortunately, in real life, eyewitness identification is rarely this cut and dried -- just ask Iowa State professor of psychology, Gary Wells.

Wells, Distinguished Professor in Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Wendy and Mark Stavish Chair in Social Sciences, has dedicated years of his career to studying the reliability of eyewitness identification. His research has been featured in some of today’s most highly regarded psychology journals, and he’s made appearances on television shows like 48 Hours, Today, Rock Center, 60 Minutes and more. But even more impressive, an estimated 35 percent of the nation’s law enforcement agencies have adopted new eyewitness identification procedures Wells has developed.

Recently, another one of Wells’ studies has gained national attention, proving that sequential photo lineups (where witnesses view one photograph at a time) produce fewer mistaken eyewitness IDs than simultaneous photo lineups. When it comes to eyewitness identification, this is a landmark study. Said Wells, “It’s a good study for reassuring police departments that they’re not really going to lose suspect picks from it, but they will get fewer mistakes.” Which is exactly what these departments want.

The adventurous minds at Iowa State are making their mark on the world through their research, whether that research is eyewitness identification, cyber security, or biofuel technology. And these professors are passing their knowledge along to every Iowa State student they teach -- so students have the skills they need to make their own mark on the world.