Memory & Cognition

, Volume 25, Issue 2, pp 129–139 | Cite as

The verbal overshadowing effect: Why descriptions impair face recognition

  • Chad S. Dodson
  • Marcia K. Johnson
  • Jonathan W. Schooler


Three experiments explored the verbal overshadowing effect, that is, the phenomenon that describing a previously seen face impairs recognition of this face. There were three main results: First, a verbal overshadowing effect was obtained both when subjects were provided with and when they generated a description of an earlier seen face. Second, instructing subjects at the time of test to be aware of potentially competing memories did not improve, and may even have worsened, recognition performance when the subjects hadgenerated a description of the target face. However, these instructions improved performance and eliminated the verbal overshadowing effect when subjects wereprovided with someone else’s description of the target face. Third, recognition of the target face was disrupted when subjects described a completely different face, such as their parent’s face or a face of the opposite sex. The results are discussed in relation to two potential mechanisms: source confusion between previously encoded visual and verbal representations of the face and a shift in processing of the test faces at recognition.


Face Recognition Recognition Test Recognition Performance Source Monitoring Target Face 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Chad S. Dodson
    • 1
  • Marcia K. Johnson
    • 1
  • Jonathan W. Schooler
    • 2
  1. 1.Princeton UniversityPrinceton
  2. 2.University of PittsburghPittsburgh

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