“Why words get stuck on the tip of your tongue, and how to stop it recurring”

“Psychologists studying this phenomenon say it occurs when there is a disconnect between a word’s concept and it’s lexical representation. A successful utterance requires these two steps are bridged, but in the tip-of-the-tongue state, only the concept is activated (and possibly a letter or two) while the complete translation into letters and sounds fails. What’s more, new research shows the very act of being in this state makes it more likely that it will recur…
The way to help someone in a tip-of-the-tongue state, then, is to nudge them towards a spontaneous resolution. When the researchers helped their student participants resolve a tip-of-tongue state by giving them the first few letters of the solution, this prevented the state from recurring on later testing. Point the hiker in the right direction and if he finds the right way himself, he will remember the correct route in future. This nicely complements an established phenomenon from research on word learning known as the generation effect: that is, generating words from clues (such as a word stem) leads to better memory for those words than being told them whole.”

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