What do we know when we forget?

Asher Koriat, Ravit Nussinson

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


The tip-of-the-tongue (TOT) state has attracted special attention because it combines two seemingly inconsistent features: we are unable to retrieve the solicited word or name but are convinced that we know it and feel that its recall is imminent. Several researchers have stressed the emotional and motivational distress that accompanies the TOT. The frustration from the memory blockage is particularly strong when we are able to retrieve partial clues about the elusive memory target although we fail to retrieve the target in full. Blocked Memory for Names In the lion's share of the studies, the TOT has been elicited by providing participants with word definitions and asking them to retrieve the corresponding word (A. Brown, 2012, table 3.2). Several questions about the TOT have been investigated using this procedure. The present chapter focuses on one question that has received some empirical evidence: What kind of partial fragments of information can participants report when they are stuck in a memory blockage state? In their pioneering study, R. Brown and McNeill (1966) asked participants in a TOT to make several guesses about the elusive memory target. They demonstrated that, while in the TOT and prior to recall, participants were successful in guessing some of the letters in the elusive word, the number of syllables in it, and the location of the primary stress. Other studies also showed that participants in a TOT have access to information about the length of the word, its frequency of occurrence, number of syllables, first letter, final letter, ending sound, and beginning sound (Brown & Burrows, 2009; Caramazza & Miozzo, 1997; Ecke, 2004; Koriat & Lieblich, 1974, 1975; Lovelace, 1987; Yarmey, 1973). These findings laid the ground for a general model of how words are stored in the mental lexicon and retrieved from it. The general conclusion was that “the lexical network is organized along lines of phonemic (and to some degree orthographic) similarity” (Collins & Loftus, 1975, p. 413).

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTip-of-the-Tongue States and Related Phenomena
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9781139547383
ISBN (Print)9781107035225
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2013

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Cambridge University Press 2014.


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