Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Partial Word Knowledge in the Absence of Recall

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Partial Word Knowledge in the Absence of Recall

Article excerpt

Abstract Attributes of words can be known even when the words are not currently retrievable. Although repeatedly demonstrated for semantic and contextual dimensions, the evidence is ambiguous for structural characteristics. The present research demonstrates significant above-chance first-letter knowledge across four ordinal levels of retrieval confidence for nonretrieved words- tip of the tongue (TOT), high familiar, low familiar, unfamiliar. Contrary to prior research, there was minimal evidence for syllable number knowledge, even at highest confidence levels. Initial letter recognition in the absence of retrieval resembles the recognition without identification in episodic memory (Cleary, Current Directions in Psychological Science 17: 353-357, 2008), and such implicit familiarity may contribute more generally to confidence assessments of word knowledge in both semantic and episodic memory domains. Furthermore, this outcome suggests that word feature priming in the form of partial phonological activation may occur to some extent for all words during a retrieval attempt, and even for ones that are judged to be unknown.

Keywords Implicit memory . Memory . Word production . Metamemory . Tip of the Tongue

Retrieval of known information is frequently fragmental, where certain contextual or semantic attributes are available even when the fact or name is not (Koriat, Levy-Sadot, Edry, & de Marcas, 2003). The possibility of word feature availability in the absence of word retrieval was first empirically demonstrated by Brown and McNeill (1966) in their study of the tip of the tongue (TOT) experience (Brown, 1991, 2012; Schwartz, 2002). This is perhaps the most salient subjective experience associated with TOTs-the availability of semantic and structural information about the word (e.g., first letter, number of syllables)-despite the failure to retrieve it. Such attribute information availability has been central to theoretical speculation and debate about TOTs. From the direct access theoretical perspective, this information reflects a subthreshold excitation that is sufficient to allow access to target word features but inadequate for whole-word production (transmission deficit hypothesis, or TDH; Burke, MacKay, Worthley, & Wade, 1991). Alternatively, the metacognitive (inferential) perspective assumes that such information drives one'ssubjective evaluation of eminent retrieval, apart from any activation of the target word itself (Koriat, 1993; Metcalfe, Schwartz, & Joaquim, 1993;Schwartz,2002). The general assumption of both theoretical perspectives is that access to target word features in the absence of its retrieval is associated only with the highest confidence retrieval states (i.e.,TOT).

The purpose of the present investigation is to determine to what extent such information is also accessible during retrieval attempts where one is not so sure about the retrievability of the sought-after word. There is intriguing evidence that semantic dimensions of unretrievable words (e.g., semantic differential) can be identified in the absence of retrieval certitude (Eysenck, 1979;Koriatetal.,2003; Yavuz & Bousfield, 1959) and has even been observed when the nonretrieved word is unknown or judged to be a nonword (Durso & Shore, 1991; Shore & Durso, 1990). In contrast, such access for structural or orthographic features of nonretrieved words has not been clearly demonstrated for states other than high retrieval certitude (TOTs).

Also related to this issue is the recognition without identification (RWI) phenomenon, where one can be aware of attributes of a stimulus in the absence of consciously available knowledge regarding what this information is. RWI was originally demonstrated by Peynircio?lu (1990), who gave participants an input list of words to study, followed by a test using word fragment cues. If unable to complete the fragment, participants had to guess whether the word that completed the fragment had appeared on the prior input list. …

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