Repeated Retrieval Attempts and Tip of the Tongue Recurrence

Published: 29 June 2021| Version 2 | DOI: 10.17632/63vpd8xdp6.2
Patricia Xi,
Emma Gardner,


Older adults’ most frequent cognitive complaint is the tip of the tongue state (TOT), i.e., the temporary failure to retrieve a word’s phonology despite certainty that the word is known. Blocking theories suggest that directing attention elsewhere aids resolution of TOTs, although the effect of repeated retrieval attempts is unknown. Older adults (N = 72) were tested on 50 TOT-inducing stimuli under study, test or control conditions. After the initial test, study participants received the answers to study for successive tests, test participants were tested twice more without feedback and control participants were dismissed without further testing in this session. One week later, study and test participants resolved significantly more of their initial TOTs than control participants. This benefit was not observed at a three-month test (N = 54). Thus, repeated retrieval attempts help participants access previously known information, extending the benefits of the testing effect, but not after an extended testing delay. The following dataset contains raw responses (i.e., correct and incorrect "know", "don't know", and correct and incorrect "TOT" responses) as well as proportions of these responses over all verified and known information. All “TOT” responses were included in analyses of the preliminary test for which there was no feedback. TOT responses were verified at final test only when participants were asked whether the correct answer was the target they were attempting to retrieve. Only TOT responses for the correct word were included in the analyses (“correct TOTs”). When the participant responded “TOT” but at the final test indicated that they were thinking of a different word than the intended target, the response was dropped from further analysis in the manuscript. These are the "true" TOTs as opposed to "raw." These rates are the first variables (after ID and condition) in the SPSS file while counts of each response are the variables below. To focus on the effect on TOTs of the Test and Study conditions compared to the Control condition, each TOT response on the Preliminary test was tracked for each participant (N = 72) to identify how the participant responded to that specific question at the 1-week test. Preliminary TOT responses that later became don’t know, incorrect know, or incorrect TOT responses during the 1-week test were excluded from this analysis (n = 189, 19.25% of original TOT responses). Preliminary TOT responses that became correct know responses at the final test were categorized as resolved TOTs and converted into percent of total TOT responses at the preliminary test.


Steps to reproduce

Stimuli were presented via Microsoft PowerPoint and responses were recorded in separate Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. These spreadsheets were then collated into a single SPSS .sav file. Other tests (e.g., vocabulary) were given to participants via paper and pencil. These can be found in the Materials folder.


Cognitive Psychology, Memory, Aging, Language Production