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.
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This work was supported in part by research grants from the National Science Foundation (BNS-8617659, 9009611) and the National Institutes of Health (R01-HD21011).
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Meyer, A.S., Bock, K. The tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon: Blocking or partial activation?. Mem Cogn 20, 715–726 (1992). https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03202721