Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

The Effects of Emotion on Tip-of-the-Tongue States

Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

The Effects of Emotion on Tip-of-the-Tongue States

Article excerpt

Tip-of-the-tongue states (TOTs) are judgments of the likelihood of imminent retrieval for items currently not recalled. In the present study, the relation of emotion to the experience of TOTs is explored. Emotion-inducing questions (e.g., "What is the term for ritual suicide in Japan?") were embedded among neutral questions (e.g., "What is the capital of Denmark?"). Participants attempted to recall the answers and, if unsuccessful, were asked if they were in a TOT and given a recognition test. For unrecalled items, there were significantly more TOTs for the emotional items than for the neutral items, even though the recognition performance was identical. There were more TOTs for questions that followed emotional questions than TOTs for questions that followed neutral questions, suggesting the emotional arousal lasts beyond the specific question. These findings suggest that emotional

The signs of it [TOT] were unmistakable; he would appear to be in mild torment, something like the brink of a sneeze, and if he found the word his relief was considerable.

R. Brown and McNeill (1966, p. 326)

The tip-of-the-tongue state (TOT) is the feeling that a currently inaccessible item will be recalled (R. Brown & McNeill, 1966; see A. S. Brown, 1991; Schwartz, 2002, 2006; and Smith, 1994, for reviews). As the quote from R. Brown and McNeill suggests, many anecdotal reports associate TOTs with the experience of emotion. However, the relation, if any, between emotion and TOTs has seldom been explored in empirical studies. It is unknown, for example, whether people experience TOTs more often when they are already emotionally aroused or if TOTs themselves induce strong emotional arousal. The present study demonstrated the role of emotional stimuli in people's experience of TOTs. The relation between memory and emotion is an old and important one (Kensinger & Schacter, 2008). In other domains, research has shown that emotion can influence memory variables, such as the amount recalled in older adults (Kensinger, 2009) or attributions of nostalgia (Leboe & Ansons, 2006).

Two empirical studies addressed the nature of TOTs and emotion, and both are correlational. Schwartz, Travis, Castro, and Smith (2000) asked participants to ascribe an emotional state to a TOT and then correlated emotionality judgments with objective measures of performance. Participants answered general information questions and were asked to judge whether they were in a TOT for unrecalled questions. If they indicated that they were in a TOT, they were then asked whether or not an emotional feeling or a feeling of frustration accompanied the TOT. Later, they were given a second chance to recall the answer, and if they could not, they were given a recognition test. Slightly more than half (55%) of all TOTs were judged to be emotional. Emotional TOTs were more likely to be recalled later and were recognized later than were TOTs that were not judged to be emotional. Schwartz et al. showed that participants readily ascribe emotions to TOTs and that experiencing emotion was predictive of later objective memory performance.

Schwartz (2001) also asked for emotion judgments following a TOT report. Participants had to decide whether each TOT was emotionally frustrating, emotionally exciting, or neither. TOTs were more likely to be judged as frustrating (59%) rather than exciting (7%). The remaining TOTs (34%) were not accompanied by emotion. Schwartz (2001) also demonstrated the relation between TOTs and emotions. It also suggested that the emotion experienced by participants is, by and large, negative.

In the present study, emotion is elicited by uncomfortable questions, related to topics likely to be considered negative. It is unclear how emotion produced by these questions is related to the emotion experienced during TOTs. It is possible that they have nothing to do with each other, but it is also possible that emotion elicited by questions will be attributed to the emotion associated with a TOT. …

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