Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

, Volume 6, Issue 3, pp 379–393 | Cite as

Sparkling at the end of the tongue: The etiology of tip-of-the-tongue phenomenology

  • Bennett L. SchwartzEmail author


The tip-of-the-tongue experience (TOT) is the phenomenological experience that a currently inaccessible word is stored in memory and will be retrieved. TOTs appear to be a universal experience that occurs frequently in everyday life, making the TOT an ideal case study in human phenomenology. This paper considers TOTs in light of Tulving’s (1989) challenge to the doctrine of concordance, which is the assumption that behavior, cognition, and phenomenology are correlated, if not caused by identical processes. Psycholinguistic and memory theories, consistent with concordance, argue for direct access, or the view that TOTs and word retrieval are caused by the same retrieval processes. The metacognition view challenges concordance and views TOTs as an inference based on nontarget information that is accessible to rememberers. Current data, reviewed here, suggest that TOTs are caused via direct access and through inferential processes. Dissociations between TOTs and retrieval suggest that the causes of TOT phenomenology and the processes of retrieval are not identical.


Target Word Phenomenological Experience Mental Time Travel Word Retrieval Phonological Priming 
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.


  1. Anderson, M. C., &Neely, J. H. (1996). Interference and inhibition in memory retrieval. In E. L. Bjork & R. A. Bjork (Eds.),Memory (pp. 237–417). San Diego: Academic Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Astell, A. J., &Harley, T. A. (1996). Tip-of-the-tongue states and lexical access in dementia.Brain & Language,54, 196–215.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bak, B. (1987). The tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon: A Polish view.Polish Psychological Bulletin,18, 21–27.Google Scholar
  4. Benjamin, A. S., Bjork, R. A., &Schwartz, B. L. (1998). The mismeasure of memory: When retrieval fluency is misleading as a metamnemonic index.Journal of Experimental Psychology: General,127, 55–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bjork, R. A. (1994). Memory and metamemory considerations in the training of human beings. In J. Metcalfe & A. P. Shimamura (Eds.),Metacognition: Knowing about knowing (pp. 185–205). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  6. Bjork, R. A., &Bjork, E. L. (1992). A new theory of disuse and an old theory of stimulation fluctuation. In A. F. Healy, S. M. Kosslyn, & R. M. Shiffrin (Eds.),From learning processes to cognitive processes: Essays in honor of William K. Estes (Vol. 2, pp. 35–67). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  7. Brown, A. S. (1991). A review of the tip-of-the-tongue experience.Psychological Bulletin,109, 204–223.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Brown, A. S., &Nix, L. A. (1996). Age-related changes in the tip-ofthe- tongue experience.American Journal of Psychology,109, 79–91.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Brown, R., &McNeill, D. (1966). The “tip of the tongue” phenomenon.Journal of Verbal Learning & Behavior,5, 325–337.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bruce, C., &Howard, D. (1988). Why don’t Broca’s aphasics cue themselves? An investigation of phonemic cueing and tip of the tongue information.Neuropsychologia,26, 253–264.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Burke, D. M., 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 & Language,30, 542–579.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Connor, L. T., Balota, D. A., &Neely, J. H. (1992). On the relation between feeling of knowing and lexical decision: Persistent subthreshold activation or topic familiarity.Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition,18, 544–554.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Elbers, L. (1985). A tip-of-the-tongue experience at age two?Journal of Child Language,12, 353–365.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Finley, G. E., &Sharp, T. (1989). Name retrieval by the elderly in the tip-of-the-tongue paradigm: Demonstrable success in overcoming initial failure.Educational Gerontology,15, 259–265.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Funnell, M., Metcalfe, J., &Tsapkani, K. (1996). In the mind but not on the tongue: Feeling of knowing in an anomic patient. In L. M. Reder (Ed.),Implicit memory and metacognition (pp. 171–194). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  16. Gardiner, J. M., &Java, R. I. (1993). Recognising and remembering. In A. F. Collins, S. E. Gathercole, M. A. Conway, & P. E. Morris (Eds.),Theories of memory (pp. 163–188). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  17. Harley, T. A., &Bown, H. E. (1998). What causes a tip-of-the-tongue state? Evidence for lexical neighbourhood effects in speech production.British Journal of Psychology,89, 151–174.Google Scholar
  18. Iwasaki, N.,Vigliocco, G., &Garrett, M. F. (in press). Adjectives and adjectival nouns in Japanese: Psychological processes in sentence production. InJapanese/Korean Linguistics (Vol. 8). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Jacoby, L. L., Kelley, C. M., &Dywan, J. (1989). Memory attributions. In H. L. Roediger III & F. I. M. Craik (Eds.),Varieties of memory and consciousness: Essays in honour of Endel Tulving (pp. 391–422). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  20. James, W. (1890).The principles of psychology: Vol. 1. New York: Holt.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Jones, G. V. (1988). Analyzing memory blocks. In M. M. Gruneberg, P. E. Morris, & R. N. Sykes (Eds.),Practical aspects of memory: Current research and issues (Vol. 1, pp. 215–220). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  22. Jones, G. V. (1989). Back to Woodworth: Role of interlopers in the tipof-the-tongue phenomenon.Memory & Cognition,17, 69–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Jones, G. V., &Langford, S. (1987). Phonological blocking in the tip of the tongue state.Cognition,26, 115–122.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Kohn, S. E., Wingfield, A., Menn, L., Goodglass, H., Berko Gleason, J., &Hyde, M. (1987). Lexical retrieval: The tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon.Applied Psycholinguistics,8, 245–266.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Koriat, A. (1993). How do we know that we know? The accessibility account of the feeling of knowing.Psychological Review,100, 609–639.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Koriat, A. (1995). Dissociating knowing and the feeling of knowing: Further evidence for the accessibility model.Journal of Experimental Psychology: General,124, 311–333.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Koriat, A. (1997). Monitoring one’s own knowledge during study: A cue-utilization approach to judgments of learning.Journal of Experimental Psychology: General,126, 349–370.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Koriat, A., &Lieblich, I. (1974). What does a person in a “TOT” state know that a person in a “don’t know” state doesn’t know.Memory & Cognition,2, 647–655.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Koriat, A., &Lieblich, I. (1977). A study of memory pointers.Acta Psychologica,41, 151–164.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kozlowski, L. T. (1977). Effects of distorted auditory and of rhyming cues on retrieval of tip-of-the-tongue words by poets and nonpoets.Memory & Cognition,5, 477–481.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Matison, R., Mayeux, R., Rosen, J., &Fahn, S. (1982). “Tip-of-thetongue” phenomenon in Parkinson disease.Neurology,32, 567–570.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Maylor, E. A. (1990). Recognizing and naming faces: Aging, memory retrieval, and the tip of the tongue state.Journal of Gerontology,45, 215–226.Google Scholar
  33. Metcalfe, J. (1993). Novelty monitoring, metacognition, and control in a composite holographic associative recall model: Interpretations for Korsakoff amnesia.Psychological Review,100, 3–22.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Metcalfe, J., Schwartz, B. L., &Joaquim, S. G. (1993). The cue familiarity heuristic in metacognition.Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition,19, 851–861.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Meyer, A. S., &Bock, K. (1992). The tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon: Blocking or partial activation?Memory & Cognition,20, 715–726.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Miozzo, M., &Caramazza, A. (1997). Retrieval of lexical-syntactic features in tip-of-the-tongue states.Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition,23, 1410–1423.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Murakami, Y. (1980). On the memory unit within kana-letter and kanjiletter words in the tip of the tongue phenomenon.Japanese Journal of Psychology,51, 41–44.Google Scholar
  38. Nelson, T. O. (1984). A comparison of current measures of the accuracy of feeling-of-knowing predictions.Psychological Bulletin,95, 109–133.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. Nelson, T. O. (1996). Consciousness and metacognition.American Psychologist,51, 102–116.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Nelson, T. O., Gerler, D., &Narens, L. (1984). Accuracy of feeling of knowing judgments for predicting perceptual identification and relearning.Journal of Experimental Psychology: General,113, 282–300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Nelson, T. O., &Narens, L. (1990). Metamemory: A theoretical framework and new findings. In G. H. Bower (Ed.),The psychology of learning and motivation (Vol. 26, pp. 125–141). San Diego: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  42. Nelson, T. O., &Narens, L. (1994). Why investigate metacognition? In J. Metcalfe & A. P. Shimamura (Eds.),Metacognition: Knowing about Knowing (pp. 1–25). Cambridge, MA: MIT PressGoogle Scholar
  43. Perfect, T. J., &Hanley, J. R. (1992). The tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon: Do experimenter-presented interlopers have any effect?Cognition,45, 55–75.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. Rajaram, S. (1993). Remembering and knowing: Two means of access to the personal past.Memory & Cognition,21, 89–102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Rajaram, S., &Roediger, H. L., III (1997). Remembering and knowing as states of consciousness during retrieval. In J. D. Cohen & J. W. Schooler (Eds.),Scientific approaches to consciousness (pp. 213–240). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  46. Rastle, K. G., &Burke, D. M. (1996). Priming the tip of the tongue: Effects of prior processing on word retrieval in young and older adults.Journal of Memory & Language,35, 586–605.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Read, J. D., &Bruce, D. (1982). Longitudinal tracking of difficult memory retrievals.Cognitive Psychology,14, 280–300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Reason, J. T., &Lucus, D. (1984). Using cognitive diaries to investigate naturally occurring memory blocks. In J. Harris & P. E. Morris (Eds.),Everyday memory, actions, and absent mindedness (pp. 53–70). London: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  49. Reder, L. M. (1987). Selection strategies in question answering.Cognitive Psychology,19, 90–138.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Reder, L. M., &Ritter, F. E. (1992). What determines initial feeling of knowing? Familiarity with question terms, not with the answer.Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition,18, 435–451.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Roediger, H. L., III (1996). Memory illusions.Journal of Memory & Language,35, 76–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Rubin, D. C. (1975). Within word structure in the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon.Journal of Verbal Learning & Verbal Behavior,14, 392–397.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Ryan, M. P., Petty, C. R., &Wenzlaff, R. M. (1982). Motivated remembering efforts during tip-of-the-tongue states.Acta Psychologica,51, 137–147.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Schwartz, B. L. (1994). Sources of information in metamemory: Judgments of learning and feelings of knowing.Psychonomic Bulletin & Review,1, 357–375.Google Scholar
  55. Schwartz, B. L. (1998). Illusory tip-of-the-tongue states.Memory,6, 623–642.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  56. Schwartz, B. L., &Metcalfe, J. (1992). Cue familiarity but not target retrievability enhances feeling-of-knowing judgments.Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition,18, 1074–1083.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Schwartz, B. L., &Metcalfe, J. (1994). Methodological problems and pitfalls in the study of human metacognition. In J. Metcalfe & A. P. Shimamura (Eds.),Metacognition: Knowing about knowing (pp. 93–114). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  58. Schwartz, B. L., &Smith, S. M. (1997). The retrieval of related information influences tip-of-the-tongue states.Journal of Memory & Language,36, 68–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Schwartz, B. L.,Travis, D. M.,Castro, A. M., &Smith, S. M. (in press). The phenomenology of real and illusory tip-of-the-tongue states.Memory & Cognition.Google Scholar
  60. Smith, S. M. (1994). Frustrated feelings of imminent recall: On the tipof-the tongue. In J. Metcalfe & A. P. Shimamura (Eds.),Metacognition: Knowing about knowing (pp. 27–46). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  61. Smith, S. M., Balfour, S. P., &Brown, J. M. (1994). Effects of practice on tip-of-the-tongue states.Memory,2, 31–49.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  62. Tulving, E. (1983).Elements of episodic memory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  63. Tulving, E. (1989). Memory: Performance, knowledge, and experience.European Journal of Cognitive Psychology,1, 3–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Tulving, E., &Pearlstone, Z. (1966). Availability versus accessibility of information in memory for words.Journal of Verbal Learning & Verbal Behavior,5, 381–391.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Vigliocco, G., Antonini, T., &Garrett, M. F. (1997). Grammatical gender is on the tip of Italian tongues.Psychological Science,8, 314–317.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Vigliocco, G., Vinson, D. P., Martin, R. C., &Garrett, M. F. (1999). Is “count” and “mass” information available when the noun is not? An investigation of tip of the tongue states in anomia.Journal of Memory & Language,40, 534–558.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Wellman, H. M. (1977). Tip of the tongue and feeling of knowing experiences: A developmental study of memory monitoring.Child Development,48, 13–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Widner, R. L., Smith, S. M., &Graziano, W. G. (1996). The effects of demand characteristics on the reporting of tip-of-the-tongue states and feeling-of-knowing states.American Journal of Psychology,109, 525–538.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Yaniv, I., &Meyer, D. E. (1987). Activation and metacognition of inaccessible stored information: Potential bases for incubation effects in problem solving.Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition,13, 187–205.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychology, College of Arts and SciencesFlorida International UniversityMiami

Personalised recommendations