Recalling A Word On The Tip Of Your Tongue Helps Ensure You'll Forget It Next Time

Brilliance | Dec. 18, 2017

Have you ever noticed that there are some words you can never remember? According to research out of McMaster University, it's not the words, but the struggle to remember that's to blame. Scientists gave 30 students definitions of words and asked the students to say whether they knew the word, didn't know the word, or it was on the tip of their tongue (what psychologists call a TOT, or tip-of-the-tongue state). If they were in a TOT, researchers randomly assigned them to spend either 10 or 30 seconds trying to remember the word before finally seeing what it was. Two days later, the students were tested on the same words again. Surprisingly, instead of more easily recalling the words they had been shown after their TOT state, those words tended to be on the tips of the students tongues just like they were before. This was even more likely for the students who had spent more time trying to recall them.

"...by getting into a tip-of-the-tongue state on a particular word once, they actually learn to go into that incorrect state when they try to retrieve the same word again," assistant professor Karin Humphreys told the McMaster Daily News. The science suggests that the next time you have a word on the tip of your tongue, you shouldn't spend time trying to remember it. Instead, immediately look it up or ask someone. If you do get the word, Humphreys says, "you should actually say it to yourself...by laying down another procedural memory, you can help ameliorate the effects of the error." Learn more about the quirks of human memory in the videos below.

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