Document Type

Research Paper


When a person becomes a witness to a crime he or she is often asked to recall the event when the police arrive. Of particular interest is the verbal description of the offender. A verbal description can aid in locating suspects still in the vicinity; however, under certain circumstances the verbal description can hinder the subsequent recognition of the culprit. This is referred to as verbal overshadowing. Recent research has demonstrated that verbal overshadowing occurs when the witness is forced to provide details of the offender that are not readily available to the witness. When witnesses are allowed instead to provide free recall of the offender, subsequent recognition is not hindered. Non-verbal methods for describing faces have been used by agencies such as the FBI for years. To assist in constructing facial composites of perpetrators, the FBI developed the FBI Facial Identification Catalog. In the catalog images of faces representing various features are displayed. For example, rather than describing the feature of having a long nose, the witness can simply point to a page of pictures of long noses. In eyewitness studies, feature description tasks are often designed as bi-polar opposites on Likert-type scales. For example, did the suspect have a SHORT NOSE 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 LONG NOSE? This verbal task can easily be modified such that a picture of a Short Nose and a picture of a Long Nose anchor the Likert- type scale eliminating the verbal component. A procedure such as this might allow for more detailed questioning without running the risk of verbal overshadowing. The present study examines the effect of verbal overshadowing when participants were given either warned detail recall or forced detail recall when assigned to either a verbal or pictorial description condition. It was hypothesized that participants in the pictorial warning condition would display a significantly smaller verbal overshadowing effect than participants in the other conditions.

Publication Date


Journal Title

Conference Proceedings: Undergraduate Social Science Research Conference





First Page


Last Page



©2002 by the University of Northern Iowa



File Format



University of Northern Iowa


Cedar Falls, IA