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verbal overshadowing

verbal overshadowing - Philosophically introspection has...

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Philosophically, introspection has always been at the forefront of proper personal development. Decartes started this movement with his famous line, “Cogito, ergo sum”, or “I think, therefore I am”. This personal, internal thought process used to come about a specific conclusion predates Decartes, of course, but is still regarded by philosophers to be the ultimate source of truth. One must wonder, though, how reliable this source of knowledge really is. Studies have shown that introspection may not be as trustworthy as previously thought. The most famous studies conducted by Jonathon Schooler and his associates shed light on this important question. What if the long-heralded path to personal self-fulfillment by philosophers sets up not a path to truth, but a path to misperceived falsehoods? Psychologists presented with this dilemma have tested their theories many times over the past twenty years, but almost universally arrive at the same conclusion: memory is easily overshadowed by verbal interference. That is, eyewitness memory, though already weak, is further weakened by the simple act of recounting an instance immediately after occurrence. 17 th century Descartes may have thought introspection to be a powerful tool when examined philosophically, but 20 th century work indicates its trustworthiness to be extremely dubious at best when examined cognitively. The importance of this research becomes clear when looking at the area of law enforcement. Officers frequently solicit information of incidents or descriptions of criminals from eyewitnesses, most of the time doing so immediately after the occurrence on the assumption that one would remember more details and with greater accuracy under closer proximity to the time of the incident. For a great length of time, law enforcement officials would rely on this testimony to find suspected criminals on the streets and then use the eyewitness once again to pick their suspect from a lineup. It was
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not until 1990 that memory researchers turned to investigating this practice. A series of laboratory studies first proved that an individual’s ability to recall a shown face even with the instructions to memorize the face was quite poor. Even more disturbing is the realization that actual eyewitnesses are very rarely provided with the same instructions and normally do not attend to an individual’s face without a reason. Later studies then found that the memory of an eyewitness becomes even worse when asked to describe the mock criminal’s face immediately after seeing it compared to those who were not asked for a verbal description. Jonathan Schooler of the University of Pittsburg dubbed the effect “verbal overshadowing of visual memories”. From his studies, a new wave of research was ushered in where others continued to arrive at the same conclusion that, under certain circumstances, verbal descriptions severely impair the memories of individuals from an array of hard-to-describe perceptions from someone’s face and the sound of their voice to the taste of wine.
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