Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

, Volume 15, Issue 1, pp 156–160 | Cite as

Partial knowledge in a tip-of-the-tongue state about two- and three-word proper names

  • J. Richard HanleyEmail author
  • Eleanor Chapman
Brief Reports


Participants in this study attempted to name 44 famous people in response to reading biographical information about them. Half of the celebrities had names that contained two words (e.g., Gwyneth Paltrow and Sean Penn), and half of them had names containing three words (e.g., Catherine Zeta Jones and Billy Bob Thornton). Half of the names had previously been judged to be of high familiarity (e.g., Gwyneth Paltrow), and half were of lower familiarity (e.g., Billy Bob Thornton). The results showed that when in a tip-of-the-tongue (TOT) state, the participants were able to estimate at above-chance rates whether a celebrity’s name comprised two or three words. Accurate information about the number of words was not available to the participants unless they were in a TOT state or had already named the person. Attempts to identify celebrities whose name had three elements were associated with an increased number of TOTs, relative to celebrities whose name had two units, but there was no difference in the number of don’t know responses for names containing two or three words. Calculations based on Gollan and Brown (2006) suggested that having three names impaired the phonological but not the semantic stage of lexical retrieval, whereas low familiarity impaired both semantic and phonological retrieval stages.


Target Word Familiarity Rating Biographical Information Retrieval Failure Word 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. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of EssexColchesterEngland

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