, Volume 39, Issue 5, pp 737-749
Date: 04 Jan 2011

Tip-of-the-tongue (TOT) states: retrieval, behavior, and experience


The tip-of-the-tongue state (TOT) is the feeling that accompanies temporary inaccessibility of an item that a person is trying to retrieve. TOTs have been studied experimentally since the seminal work of Brown and McNeill (1966). TOTs are experiences that accompany some failed or slow retrievals, and they can result in changes in retrieval behavior itself, allowing us to study the interplay among experience, retrieval, and behavior. We often attribute the experience of the TOT to the unretrieved target, but TOTs are based on a variety of cues, heuristics, or sources of evidence, such as partial information, related information, and cue familiarity, that predict the likelihood of overcoming retrieval failure. We present a synthesis of the direct-access view, which accounts for retrieval failure, and the heuristic–metacognitive view, which accounts for the experience of the TOT. We offer several avenues for future research and applications of TOT theory and data.