Memory & Cognition

, Volume 20, Issue 6, pp 715–726 | Cite as

The tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon: Blocking or partial activation?

  • Antje S. Meyer
  • Kathryn Bock


Tip-of-the-tongue states may represent the momentary unavailability of an otherwise accessible word or the weak activation of an otherwise inaccessible word. In three experiments designed to address these alternative views, subjects attempted to retrieve rare target words from their definitions. The definitions were followed by cues that were related to th.e targets in sound, by cues that were related in meaning, and by cues that were not related to the targets. Experiment 1 found that compared with unrelated cues, related cue words that were presented immediately after target definitions helped rather than hindered lexical retrieval, and that sound cues were more effective retrieval aids than meaning cues. Experiment 2 replicated these results when cues were presented after an initial target-retrieval attempt. These findings reverse a previous one (Jones, 1989) that was reproduced in Experiment 3 and shown to stem from a small group of unusually difficult target definitions.


Target Word Correct Target Unrelated Condition Response Sheet Lexical Retrieval 
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. 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Antje S. Meyer
    • 1
  • Kathryn Bock
    • 2
  1. 1.Max Planck Institute for PsycholinguistiesNijmegenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of IllinoisChampaign

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