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Encyclopedia > Tip of the tongue

The tip of the tongue (TOT) phenomenon is an instance of knowing something that cannot immediately be recalled. TOT is a near-universal experience with memory recollection involving difficulty retrieving a well-known word or familiar name. When experiencing TOT, people feel that the blocked word is on the verge of being recovered. Despite failure in finding the word, people have the feeling that the blocked word is figuratively "on the tip of the tongue." Inaccessibility and the sense of imminence are two key features of an operational definition of TOTs (A.S. Brown, 1991). Look up Experience in Wiktionary, the free dictionary This article discusses the general concept of experience. ... For other uses, see Memory (disambiguation). ... Recollection is the retrieval of memory. ... For other uses, see Word (disambiguation). ... For other uses, see Name (disambiguation). ... For other uses, see Tongue (disambiguation). ... Year 1991 (MCMXCI) was a common year starting on Tuesday (link will display the 1991 Gregorian calendar). ...


History of Tip of the Tongue

The experience of TOT appeared in non-academic literature as early as 1885. Anton Chekhov's short story "A Horsey Name" is about the main character's tip-of-the-tongue experience involving a surname. In 1890, pioneering psychologist William James discussed the phenomenon in his text The Principles of Psychology. James described the TOT state as "a gap that is intensely active". Plato is credited with the inception of academia: the body of knowledge, its development and transmission across generations. ... For other uses, see Literature (disambiguation). ... 1885 (MDCCCLXXXV) is a common year starting on Thursday of the Gregorian calendar (or a common year starting on Saturday of the 12-day slower Julian calendar). ... Anton Pavlovich Chekhov (Russian: , IPA: ) was a Russian short story writer and playwright. ... This article is in need of attention. ... A family name, or surname, is that part of a persons name that indicates to what family he or she belongs. ... Year 1890 (MDCCCXC) was a common year starting on Wednesday (link will display the full calendar) of the Gregorian calendar (or a common year starting on Monday of the Julian calendar). ... A psychologist is an expert in psychology, the systematic investigation of the human body, including behavior, cognition, and affect. ... This article needs additional references or sources for verification. ...

In 1966, Harvard psychologists Roger Brown and David McNeill reported the first empirical investigation of the tip-of-the-tongue state. They recounted, "[t]he signs of it were unmistakable" and "he [a research participant] would appear to be in mild torment, something like on the brink of a sneeze, and if he found the word his relief was considerable." They also found that TOT is a fairly universal phenomenon, TOTs occur about once a week and increase as you age, and they're often caused by proper names. Further, people experiencing TOT are often able to access the first letter of the "target word" fairly accurately and they also bring up words related to the "target word." Finally, R. Brown and McNeill have some good news: target words are retrieved during the experience of a TOT phenomenon about half of the time (A.S. Brown, 1991). Year 1966 (MCMLXVI) was a common year starting on Saturday (link will display full calendar) of the 1966 Gregorian calendar. ... Harvard University is a private university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, and a member of the Ivy League. ... A central concept in science and the scientific method is that all evidence must be empirical, or empirically based, that is, dependent on evidence or consequences that are observable by the senses. ... For other uses, see Sneeze (disambiguation). ...

Although it is not explicitly called by this name it is interesting to note that TOT is briefly considered by Aristotle in "On Memory and Reminiscence", in his discussion on recollection. (453a, 28) For other uses, see Aristotle (disambiguation). ...

Recent TOT literature


Cognitive psychologist Bennett Schwartz examined fifty-one languages and found that forty-five of them include expressions using the word tongue to describe the TOT state. Some languages use multiple metaphors. In Korean, the metaphor "going round and round at the end of the tongue" is used, as well as "caught in the throat." French speakers use the "tongue" metaphor. In some languages, eg. Danish, and possibly others as well, tongue is often replaced by lip, "I got it (the word) right on my lips", the concept remaining identical, and having an obvious relation to the tongue. The results of the language survey suggest that the use of the "tongue" metaphor is not idiomatic to English but instead a commonality of the TOT phenomenon. Research involving diaries kept of TOT experiences show that college students have approximately one or two TOTs per week, while elderly adults have about two to four TOTs per week (Schacter, 2001). TOTs occur most frequently for names of people, but for common words as well. Cognitive The scientific study of how people obtain, retrieve, store and manipulate information. ... In language, a metaphor is a rhetorical trope where a comparison is made between two seemingly unrelated subjects. ... For other uses, see Throat (disambiguation). ... For other uses, see Lip (disambiguation). ... An idiom is an expression (i. ... The English language is a West Germanic language that originates in England. ... This article is about the concept. ... == c programming[[a--203. ... For other uses, see College (disambiguation). ... For other uses, see Student (disambiguation). ... For more details on each day of the week, see days of the week. ... Old age consists of ages nearing the average lifespan of human beings, and thus the end of the human life cycle. ... For the adult insect stage, see Imago. ... Year 2001 (MMI) was a common year starting on Monday (link displays the 2001 Gregorian calendar). ...

Etiology and the TOT in different psychology subdisciplines

A.S. Brown (1991) and Tulving's (1989) critique of the doctrine of concordance

A second major landmark study of TOTs was a review paper by A.S. Brown (1991), who detailed the pertinent research that had been done on TOTs for the 25-year period since R. Brown and McNeill (1966). In most sections of his review, A.S. Brown raised theoretical questions about TOTs that warrant further study, but most remain untested today. Instead of duplicating this coverage, Schwartz (1999) explored the etiology of the phenomenon. Schwartz considers TOTs in light of Tulving’s (1989) critique of the doctrine of concordance and how it applies to the etiology of TOTs. The doctrine of concordance states that cognitive processes, behavior, and phenomenological experience are highly correlated. In Tulving’s view, cognitive processes should not be confused with the study of phenomenological experiences. For example, the cognitive process of “retrieval” is not the same thing as or comparable to the experience of “recollection.” Look up Review in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... Events of 2008: (EMILY) Me Lesley and MIley are going to China! This article is about the year. ... This article is about the medical term. ... Endel Tulving (born May 26, 1927) is a Canadian neuroscientist, born in Estonia, whose speciality is episodic memory. ... Year 1989 (MCMLXXXIX) was a common year starting on Sunday (link displays 1989 Gregorian calendar). ... A critic (derived from the ancient Greek word krites meaning a judge) is a person who offers a value judgement or an interpretation. ... This article does not cite any references or sources. ... This article does not cite any references or sources. ... Recollection is the retrieval of memory. ...

Psycholinguistics, memory perspectives, and metacognition

The TOT has been studied using three different subdisciplines as approaches: psycholinguistics, memory perspectives, and metacognition. The first two are consistent with concordance and argue for direct access (a view that TOTs and word retrieval are caused by the same retrieval processes), while the metacognitive approach challenges concordance. Psycholinguistics or psychology of language is the study of the psychological and neurobiological factors that enable humans to acquire, use, and understand language. ... Metacognition refers to thinking about cognition (memory, perception, calculation, association, etc. ...

Most research to date concerning TOTs has come from the psycholinguistic perspective. This perspective focuses on TOTs as a temporary breakdown in lexical retrieval. This approach has linked TOTs to other errors in spoken language, such as slips of the tongue and spoonerisms. Researchers from the memory perspective have viewed TOTs as a marker of retrieval processes gone awry. Metacognitive models focus on the role that monitoring and controlling processes play in cognition. This approach views TOTs as inferences based on non-target information that is accessible to rememberers. A lexicon is a list of words together with additional word-specific information, i. ... This article does not cite any references or sources. ... Model may refer to more than one thing : For models in society, art, fashion, and cosmetics, see; role model model (person) supermodel figure drawing modeling section In science and technology, a model (abstract) is understood as an abstract or theoretical representation of a phenomenon,see; geologic modeling model (economics) model... Look up Cognition in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... Inference is the act or process of deriving a conclusion based solely on what one already knows. ... The ASCII codes for the word Wikipedia represented in binary, the numeral system most commonly used for encoding computer information. ...

Three hypotheses of direct-access

The direct-access views of the psycholinguistic and memory perspectives fall into three basic hypotheses.

  1. The first is the blocking hypothesis which states that TOTs occur because the rememberers recognize blocking words as incorrect but cannot retrieve the correct but inhibited target.
  2. The second is the incomplete activation hypothesis which views that TOTs are caused by the sensitivity to the existence of an unrecalled target in memory, accompanied by the failure to retrieve the target into conscious memory.
  3. The third hypothesis is the transmission deficit model which states that TOTs are brought about when the semantic representation of the word is activated, but there is a failure to prime the complete phonological representation of the target word.

The psycholinguistic approach views TOTs as a "window" on word retrieval (Schwartz, 1999). In 2000, Deborah Burke and Lori James reported on their research employing a repetition priming paradigm that utilized prime words that shared phonological components with potential TOT target words. They concluded that their results "support the transmission deficit model that the weak connections among phonological representations that cause TOTs are strengthened by production of phonologically related words" (Burke & James, 2000, p. 1378). Look up Hypothesis in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... Consciousness is a quality of the mind generally regarded to comprise qualities such as subjectivity, self-awareness, sentience, sapience, and the ability to perceive the relationship between oneself and ones environment. ... In general, semantics (from the Greek semantikos, or significant meaning, derived from sema, sign) is the study of meaning, in some sense of that term. ... Phonology (Greek phone = voice/sound and logos = word/speech) is a subfield of grammar (see also linguistics). ... Year 2000 (MM) was a leap year starting on Saturday. ... // Psychology Priming in psychology refers to activating particular representations or associations in memory just before carrying out an action or task. ... For other uses, see Paradigm (disambiguation). ...

Support for direct-access

Providing support for the direct-access views are research subjects recognition of TOT targets and their ability to give partial information of TOT targets. Recognition of the correct target following a TOT experience is much greater than recognition of the correct target when subjects are not experiencing a TOT. And research subjects can usually recall phonological information related to the TOT targets, such as the first letter of the word, the number of syllables, and the syllabic stress. As Thought Process During the process of thinking, recognition occurs when some event, process, pattern, or object recurs. ... Recollection is the retrieval of memory. ... A Specimen of typeset fonts and languages, by William Caslon, letter founder; from the 1728 Cyclopaedia. ... For the computer operating system, see Syllable (operating system). ...

TOT and Neurobiology

Neural basis of TOT

Human Cerebrum
Lobes of the human cerebrum. The temporal lobe (green) and frontal lobe (blue)are thought to play an important role in speech

The anterior cingulate and right middle frontal cortices are two neural areas implicated in the TOT phenomenon. One study showed that, relative to successful retrieval or unsuccessful retrieval not accompanied by a TOT, retrieval failures accompanied by TOTs elicited a selective response in anterior cingulate-prefrontal cortices. The study also found that while attempting to retrieve information, subjects rely heavily on visual spatial clues in correctly retrieving the information. For example, some subjects in the study that were trying to recall a name described looking at the person's face in attempting to retrieve the name. Also, when trying to recall the name of an author, the subjects described attempting to read the name of the author from an imagined book. The authors of the study suggest that "the extent that the subjects in our fMRI study used a visual imagery strategy when in a TOT condition, the activation observed in right inferior PFC could constitute the neural correlates of these efforts to resolve these retrieval failures" (Maril et al., 2001, p. 657). Image File history File links Lobes_of_the_brain_NL.svg‎ Lobes of the brain image without labels. ... {{Infobox Brain| Name = Frontal lobe | Latin = lobus frontalis | GraySubject = 189 | GrayPage = 821 | Map = Cerebrum map| MapPos = | MapCaption = Principal fissures and lobes of the cerebrum viewed laterally. ... The temporal lobes are part of the cerebrum. ... The parietal lobe is a lobe in the brain. ... The occipital lobe is the visual processing center of the mammalian brain, containing most of the anatomical region of the visual cortex. ... The telencephalon (IPA: ) is the name for the forebrain, a large region within the brain to which many functions are attributed. ... Anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) is the frontal part of the cingulate cortex and includes Brodmanns area 24 (ventral ACC) and 32 (dorsal ACC). ... {{Infobox Brain| Name = Frontal lobe | Latin = lobus frontalis | GraySubject = 189 | GrayPage = 821 | Map = Cerebrum map| MapPos = | MapCaption = Principal fissures and lobes of the cerebrum viewed laterally. ... The nervous system of an animal coordinates the activity of the muscles, monitors the organs, constructs and processes input from the senses, and initiates actions. ... “Prefrontal” redirects here. ... For other uses, see Face (disambiguation). ... Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is the use of MRI to measure the haemodynamic response related to neural activity in the brain or spinal cord of humans or other animals. ... Vision can refer to: Visual perception is one of the senses. ...

Three stage neural network model

Simplified view of an artificial neural network
Simplified view of an artificial neural network

One theory of why the tip of the tongue phenomenon occurs comes from Petro Gopych (2001), a professor at the Kharkiv National University. Gopych’s model proposes three stages in word recall process. Image File history File links Neural_network. ... Image File history File links Neural_network. ... The word theory has a number of distinct meanings in different fields of knowledge, depending on their methodologies and the context of discussion. ... The meaning of the word professor (Latin: [1]) varies. ... Kharkiv National University (also known as Kharkov State University or Karazin Kharkiv National University), in the city of Kharkiv, is one of the major universities in Ukraine, in the former Soviet Union, and the Russian Empire. ...

  1. Word node selection
    • This first stage involves actually selecting which word we are trying to recall. When specifying the word, we identify the learned artificial neural network (ANN) which contains information about the target word, and then activate that part.
  2. Word retrieval
    • According to Gopych, free recall exhibits positive and negative outputs randomly in the learned ANN. When trying to recall a specific word, otherwise known as cued recall, the retrieval process depicts a “spike” of these outputs with a fixed part of the true information (specific word). The result of attempts to retrieve the word from the learned ANN is an output of positive and negative units.
  3. Comparison of patterns
    • The pattern of outputs determined by the retrieval attempts is compared to a reference pattern from metamemory. If the sample pattern matches the reference pattern, the searching stops because the word that was searched for is recalled. If there is no match, the retrieval process (stage 2) starts over again and a pattern of outputs enters the ANN. This continues until the reference pattern is detected or the process is stopped independently.

Gopych believes that the problem in recalling a specified word comes from a damaged ANN. He suggests that the stored semantic information is damaged or incompletely selected. The severity of the damage determines the power of the TOT. An artificial neuron (also called a node or Nv neuron or Binary neuron or McCulloch-Pitts neuron) is an abstraction of biological neurons and the basic unit in an artificial neural network. ... An artificial neural network (ANN), often just called a neural network (NN), is a mathematical model or computational model based on biological neural networks. ... In common usage positive is sometimes used in affirmation, as a synonym for yes or to express certainty. Look up Positive on Wiktionary, the free dictionary In mathematics, a number is called positive if it is bigger than zero. ... Negative has meaning in several contexts: Look up negative in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... Random redirects here. ... Metamemory refers to memory about our own memory system and its functioning. ...

Gopych’s three stage neural network theory can be used to explain many aspects of TOT including semantic priming, immediate, delay, or eventually full TOT resolution, age dependence in TOTs, recollection of the first letter of the target word, and many more. Using the number of attempts of memory retrieval, the duration of time intervals between successive sets of spikes, and the duration of single neuron spikes, the retrieval chronometry can be determined. Gopych’s theory also supports Tulving’s challenge to the doctrine of concordance. // Traditionally, the term neural network had been used to refer to a network or circuitry of biological neurons. ... This article is about cells in the nervous system. ... Wikipedia does not yet have an article with this exact name. ...

TOT across the lifespan

TOT research in children has mainly focused on when they begin to experience TOTs and what the experience is like for them (Brown, 1991). Wellman (1977) found evidence that children between kindergarten and third grade (ages 4-7) did experience TOTs, though very rarely. They were able to recall pieces of the target word, words that sound like it or rhymed with it, and long words that included it. Further, they would tell researchers that they knew the word, but were having trouble remembering it. Like adults, they also became uncomfortable and frustrated by the experience. Finally, his findings suggest that TOTs occur more often in third graders (ages 6-7) than they do in kindergarteners and first graders. A male Caucasian toddler child A child (plural: children) is a young human. ... For other uses, see Kindergarten (disambiguation). ... In the United States, Third grade (called Grade 3 in some regions) is a year of primary education. ... A rhyme is a repetition of identical or similar sounds in two or more different words and is most often used in poetry. ... First grade is a year of education in the United States and other countries immediately following kindergarten. ...

More research has been done with TOTs in older adults. In terms of subjective estimates, research has found that older adults report experiencing TOTs about as often as younger adults (Brown, 1991). However, studies by Burke et al. (1991) and Cohen and Faulkner (1986) with more objective measurements received different results. Their participants kept diaries for four weeks, recording their TOT experiences, and young adults were found to experience significantly fewer TOTs than older adults. Other TOT literature has found that older adults remember less information about the target word and bring up fewer related words during the TOT experience and are less active in resolving the TOT experience (Brown, 1991). In science, the ideal of objectivity is an essential aspect of the scientific method, and is generally considered by the scientific community to come about as a result of strict observance of the scientific method, including the scientists willingness to submit their methods and results to an open debate by... Measurement is the estimation of the magnitude of some attribute of an object, such as its length or weight, relative to a unit of measurement. ...

TOT in entertainment

TOT has been utilized by the magician/mentalist Derren Brown to cause subjects to forget their own names in the subway segment of "Mind Control".


  • Brown, A.S. (1991). A review of the tip-of-the-tongue experience. Psychological Bulletin, 109(2), 204-223.
  • Brown, R., & McNeill, D. (1966). The "tip-of-the-tongue" phenomenon. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 5, 325-337.
  • Burke, D., MacKay, D.G., Worthley, J.S., & Wade,E. (1991). On the tip of the tongue: What causes word finding failures in young and older adults? Journal of Memory and Language, 30, 237-246.
  • Burke, D.M., & James, L.E. (2000). Phonological priming effects on word retrieval and tip-of-the-tongue experiences in young and older adults. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, 26, 1378-1391.
  • Cohen, G. & Faulkner, D. (1986). Memory for proper names: Age differences in retrieval. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 4, 187-197.
  • Gopych, P.M. (2001). Quantitative Neural Network Model of the Tip-of-the-Tongue Phenomenon Based on Synthesized Memory-Psycholinguistic-Metacognitive Approach. Kharkiv National University, Kharkiv, Ukraine. <http://arxiv.org/html/cs.CL/0103002>
  • Maril, A., Wagner, A. D., & Schacter, D. L. (2001). On the tip of the tongue: An event-related fMRI study of semantic retrieval failure and cognitive conflict. Neuron, 31, 653-660. <http://www-psych.stanford.edu/~wagner/Publications/papers/MAR_NEURON01.pdf>
  • Schacter, D.L. (2001). The seven sins of memory: How the mind forgets and remembers. New York: Houghton Mifflin.
  • Schwartz, B.L. (1999). Sparkling at the end of the tongue: The etiology of the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenology. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 6(3), 379-393.
  • Wellman, H. M. (1977). Tip of the tongue and feeling of knowing experiences: A developmental study of memory monitoring. Child Development, 48, 13-21.

Map of Ukraine with Kharkiv highlighted. ...

See also

Look up Cognition in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... Metacognition refers to thinking about cognition (memory, perception, calculation, association, etc. ... This article is about the psychological process of introspecting. ...

External links

  • It's on the Tip of Your Tongue, an article published by The Washington Post on 11 March 2008.
  • "Tip of the Tongue" cartoon, by Dave Coverly
  • "What's the Word for When You Can't Think of the Word?" in The Straight Dope
  • Tip-of-the-Tongue Phenomena: An Introductory Phenomenological Analysis from Cogprints
  • The Relation Between Syntactic and Phonological Knowledge in Lexical Access: Evidence From the 'Tip-of-the-Tongue' Phenomenon (PDF file, requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)
  • The Relation of Tip-of-the-Tongue States and Retrieval Time -- an investigation of emotional TOTs versus nonemotional TOTs (full text in PDF)
  • Three-Stage Quantitative Neural Network Model of the Tip-of-the-Tongue Phenomenon (full text PDF in Russian, with an English abstract)
Look up Tip of the tongue in
Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
For other uses, see Cartoon (disambiguation). ... Cecil Adams is the pen name of the author of The Straight Dope since 1973, a popular question and answer column published in The Chicago Reader, syndicated in thirty newspapers in the United States and Canada, and available online. ... CogPrints is an electronic archive for self-archive papers in Psychology, Neuroscience, and Linguistics, and many areas of Computer Science. ... PDF is an abbreviation with several meanings: Portable Document Format Post-doctoral fellowship Probability density function There also is an electronic design automation company named PDF Solutions. ... LaTeX document in Adobe Reader on Fedora Core Adobe Acrobat was the first software to support Adobe Systems Portable Document Format. ... Look up Emotion in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... An abstract is a brief summary of a research article, thesis, review, conference proceeding or any in-depth analysis of a particular subject or discipline, and is often used to help the reader quickly ascertain the papers purpose. ... Wiktionary (a portmanteau of wiki and dictionary) is a multilingual, Web-based project to create a free content dictionary, available in over 151 languages. ...



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