The Description-Identification Relationship & "Verbal Overshadowing"

An individuals' ability to describe a face does not always relate to their ability to identify a face.  Similarly, the processes that govern face descriptions vs. identification appear distinct.  Our research has continued to examine this description-identification relationship through the "verbal overshadowing" effect -- the finding that describing a face via verbal description can subsequently impair identification of that face from a lineup. 

We have investigated this phenomenon through the mediating role of "instructional bias", namely the extent to which an individual's response criterion at recall might influence the likelihood of a verbal overshadowing effect.  In a series of studies, we have found that pushing witnesses to provide very extensive and complete descriptions can lead to errors in their description that are related to subsequent misidentification of the target face.  In contrast, individuals asked to provide brief, but accurate, descriptions perform significantly better on the identification task when compared with no-description control participants. 

          Selected Publications on the Description-Identification Relationship and Verbal Overshadowing  by our Research Team:

Meissner, C. A., Sporer, S. L., & Susa, K. J. (2008). A theoretical and meta-analytic review of the relationship between verbal descriptions and identification accuracy in memory for faces. European Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 20, 414-455.

Susa, K. J., & Meissner, C. A. (2008). Accuracy of eyewitness descriptions. In B. Cutlerís
(Ed.), Encyclopedia of Psychology & Law, Vol. 1 (pp. 285-287). Sage publications.

Meissner, C. A., Sporer, S. L., & Schooler, J. W. (2007). Person descriptions as eyewitness evidence. In R. Lindsay, D. Ross, J. Read, & M. Toglia, (Eds). Handbook of Eyewitness Psychology: Memory for People (pp. 3-34), Lawrence Erlbaum & Associates.

Meissner, C. A., & Memon, A. (2002). Verbal overshadowing: A special issue exploring theoretical and applied issues. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 16, 869-872.


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