Psychology, New faculty, Faculty

SFU Psychology welcomes new professor Ryan Fitzgerald

August 23, 2019

The SFU Department of Psychology is pleased to welcome new faculty member Ryan Fitzgerald, who will be joining the department as an assistant professor. His research focuses on improving eyewitness identification accuracy, and understanding how eyewitnesses make decisions.

“The Innocence Project has documented hundreds of people who have been wrongfully convicted, and in the majority of these cases, mistaken eyewitness identification was a contributing factor,” Fitzgerald says. “The opportunity to help prevent such errors is deeply motivating.”

Eyewitnesses play an important role in the criminal justice system. When witnesses are asked to identify a perpetrator in a lineup, evidence-based procedures keep them from mistakenly identifying an innocent person. 

I’m especially interested in how best to choose the people who appear with the suspect in the lineup,” says Fitzgerald. “Recently, I have been examining live lineups and how they compare with non-live alternatives.”

For example, England uses video lineups and Canada uses photo lineup. Over the next few years, Fitzgerald aims to build relationships with Canadian practitioners and conduct experiments that could inform Canadian police on whether to adopt video lineups. As for other future research projects, he is particularly excited about a review of eyewitness identification policies around the world.

We studied policies from over 50 countries and found that most omitted important safeguards for innocent suspects, such as instructing the witness that the perpetrator might not be present before a lineup is shown,” Fitzgerald says. “I hope that bringing these shortcomings to light will lead to policy reform.”

Another research project Fitzgerald is involved with aims to learn how we remember how to identify a person that we might witness in the future. This is applicable when the public is asked to be on the lookout for criminals or missing people; successful sightings are rare.

The project is led by Stefana Juncu, a PhD student at University of Portsmouth in England where Fitzgerald was most recently the associate head of the psychology department, and will explore whether providing the anticipated context of a future encounter can improve the likelihood of spotting the right person.

For the Spring 2020 semester, Fitzgerald will teach 300- and 400-level undergraduate courses, and graduate-level courses in subsequent years. Most courses will be in forensic psychology, but he may branch out into teaching cognitive or social psychology.

Fitzgerald obtained his PhD in experimental and applied psychology from the University of Regina.

Outside of work, Fitzgerald enjoys travelling, hiking, and exploring the great outdoors.

“Whether it’s walking through an unfamiliar city or hiking up a mountain, I enjoy spending time outside with my wife,” he says. “Other interests are economics and all things political. I’m also a bit of a film buff.”