Iowa State University psychologist Gary Wells told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Thursday what he has been telling ISU students and others for years. “There is a big problem in eyewitness reliability.”
Cooper interviewed Wells on the program “Anderson Cooper 360” in the wake of the police shooting and subsequent disturbances in Ferguson, Mo. News reports indicate there are multiple accounts of what occurred during the shooting.
“There’s nothing unusual here about the fact that these eyewitnesses, multiple witnesses disagree,” Wells said. “We know that you take any given five people who all saw the same thing, and they are going to have five different accounts.”
Wells, an internationally recognized scholar in scientific psychology, has researched the efficiency and accuracy of police lineups and is one of the country’s leading experts on eyewitness testimony.
“Witnesses have gaps in their memories,” Wells said on CNN. “But as time goes by, they talk to other people, they watch accounts and they fill in those gaps. The brain doesn’t like gaps in memory, so it wants to fill it in. That filling in process often uses inferences and deductions and other kinds of processes that are not necessarily very reliable.”
Wells is the Wendy and Mark Stavish Chair in Social Sciences and a Distinguished Professor in Liberal Arts and Sciences. The Department of Psychology is an academic unit in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.