Race of Observer May Mediate Verbal Overshadowing Effects
Verbally describing a face can impair later visual identification of that face. The “verbal overshadowing” effect (Schooler & Engster-Schooler, 1990) has been supported recently for White observers of a White “criminal’s” face in a large-scale replication study (Alonga et al., 2014). Fallshore and Schooler (1995) suggest verbal overshadowing may not occur when observers view other-race faces, however there is a paucity of research on the role of race in verbal overshadowing. This present study utilized the replication protocol but analyzed data excluded from the Alonga et al. (2014) study to compare identification accuracy and confidence ratings of non-White observers with those of White observers. There were 282 SUNY Brockport students, 76% of whom identified as White, and 24% of whom identified as a race/ethnicity other than White (N = 69 for the “non-White” group). All participants viewed a video of a White man engaged in a bank robbery. Half the participants verbally described the robber’s face while control participants listed country names and capitals, either immediately before (Study 1) or after (Study 2) a 20 minute filler task. All participants then attempted to identify the robber’s face from a photo lineup of 8 faces, and indicate confidence in their accuracy on a Likert scale of 1 (guessing) to 7 (certain). The verbal overshadowing effect of reduced identification accuracy following verbal description was seen in White observers, but did not occur for non-White observers. For confidence ratings, an unexpected crossover interaction between verbalization condition and race group occurred; White observers reported higher confidence in their identification, whereas non-White observers reported lower confidence in the accuracy of their identification following instructions to verbally describe the robber’s face. These results may point to the need for additional studies on the role of race as a mediator in verbal overshadowing.