Send to

Choose Destination
Cogn Psychol. 1990 Jan;22(1):36-71.

Verbal overshadowing of visual memories: some things are better left unsaid.

Author information

Learning Research and Development Center, University of Pittsburgh, PA 15260.


It is widely believed that verbal processing generally improves memory performance. However, in a series of six experiments, verbalizing the appearance of previously seen visual stimuli impaired subsequent recognition performance. In Experiment 1, subjects viewed a videotape including a salient individual. Later, some subjects described the individual's face. Subjects who verbalized the face performed less well on a subsequent recognition test than control subjects who did not engage in memory verbalization. The results of Experiment 2 replicated those of Experiment 1 and further clarified the effect of memory verbalization by demonstrating that visualization does not impair face recognition. In Experiments 3 and 4 we explored the hypothesis that memory verbalization impairs memory for stimuli that are difficult to put into words. In Experiment 3 memory impairment followed the verbalization of a different visual stimulus: color. In Experiment 4 marginal memory improvement followed the verbalization of a verbal stimulus: a brief spoken statement. In Experiments 5 and 6 the source of verbally induced memory impairment was explored. The results of Experiment 5 suggested that the impairment does not reflect a temporary verbal set, but rather indicates relatively long-lasting memory interference. Finally, Experiment 6 demonstrated that limiting subjects' time to make recognition decisions alleviates the impairment, suggesting that memory verbalization overshadows but does not eradicate the original visual memory. This collection of results is consistent with a recording interference hypothesis: verbalizing a visual memory may produce a verbally biased memory representation that can interfere with the application of the original visual memory.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Elsevier Science
Loading ...
Support Center