Whom do words hurt? Individual differences in susceptibility to verbal overshadowing

TitleWhom do words hurt? Individual differences in susceptibility to verbal overshadowing
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1998
AuthorsRyan R.S., Schooler J.W.
JournalApplied Cognitive Psychology

The phenomenon of verbal overshadowing, in which describing memory for nonverbal stimuli (e.g. faces, tastes, or music) interferes with subsequent recognition performance, has previously been associated with situations in which participants’ perceptual expertise exceeded their verbal expertise (e.g. Melcher and Schooler, 1996). Such findings suggest that individual differences in perceptual and verbal ability should predict who will be vulnerable to verbalization. In this study participants performed six trials of a standard verbal overshadowing procedure (viewing a face, verbally recalling it or engaging in an unrelated activity, followed by taking a forced choice recognition test). Perceptual ability was assessed using both a domain specific measure (face recognition ability) and non-specific measures (e.g. embedded figures). General verbal ability was determined on the basis of high school or college GPA. As predicted, verbal overshadowing (i.e. lower performance for verbalization relative to control participants) was greatest among participants with high perceptual expertise and low verbal expertise. This relationship was observed with both the domain-specific and domain-general measures of perceptual expertise. These findings suggest that individuals may be especially vulnerable to verbal overshadowing when their general perceptual abilities exceed their verbal abilities.

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