Memory & Cognition

, Volume 17, Issue 1, pp 69–76 | Cite as

Back to Woodworth: Role of interlopers in the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon

  • Gregory V. Jones


When a person reports that a word is on the tip of his or her tongue, that person often recalls instead another word that is similar in sound to the target word. Two opposite roles have been suggested for these interlopers. An older view (Woodworth, 1929) holds that they are instrumental in the development of tip-of-the-tongue (TOT) states because they obstruct successful retrieval of intended targets. A more recent view (R. Brown & McNeill, 1966) holds, on the other hand, that interlopers tend to nullify TOT states by facilitating complete retrieval of the intended targets. A study is reported in which participants were explicitly presented with interloper words. The results provide two planks of support for Woodworth's hypothesis. First, more TOT states occurred when the interloper was similar in sound to the target than when it was not. Second, more TOT states occurred when the interloper was presented at the actual time of retrieval than when it was presented earlier. It appears that interlopers tend to induce TOT states by obstructing retrieval, rather than to nullify them by facilitating retrieval.


Target Word Speech Production Correct Estimation Intended Target Initial Letter 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gregory V. Jones
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of WarwickCoventryEngland

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