The feeling of the tip of the tongue may be an illusion

The feeling of the tip of the tongue may be an illusion


Sometimes you know there’s the right word for something, but your brain just can’t find it. This frustrating feeling is called “tip-of-the-tongue,” and for decades psychologists thought it was the result of partial recall of the answer. But new research shows that this experience may be largely an illusion. Just because you know something doesn’t mean you really do.

According to Scientific American reportin a series of experiments published in the Journal of General Experimental Psychology, students participating in the study attempted to answer 80 general knowledge questions with single-word answers.

If students did not answer correctly, they were asked if they felt the answer was on the tip of their tongue and were asked to provide detailed information about the word’s first letter, number of syllables, or sound. People who experienced this state were more likely to provide detailed information. But this information was usually wrong. Their guesses about sounds and number of syllables were no more accurate in the condition where they felt the target word was on the tip of their tongue than in the other condition.

While some past research has shown that tip-of-the-tongue is not completely unrealistic, new research shows that these cases cannot be completely trusted.

There is evidence to suggest that rather than relative recollection causing the tip-of-the-tongue sensation, the reverse process may be at work: something causes the sensation and then causes the person to search their memories and retrieve partial information (and often incorrect).


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