Does Interlopers Affect Tip Of The Tongue (TOT)?

Introduction to TOT phenomenon

TOT are the words that one feel that they are aware of the word but one normally gets it hard trying to gain the name from their memories. In the process a person attars different words which either have a similar meaning as the target word or a word with a similar pronunciation. These other words are referred to as interlopers (Lickley & Drevets, 2017, August). This has captured the attention of many and led to various researches hence the need for the compilation of this particular report. Woodworth (1929) ventured in the research to try and understand this phenomenal. During the research Woodworth realized that people in most cases remembered the letters that started with the word as well as the syllables but could not identify the name. the research also found out that one could later remember the name later. Other researchers tried to find out the possible reason for the brain to operate in search a manner. According to woodworth, in the process of trying to identify the words they would spontaneously generate other words that were closely similar to the actual word. These words were identified as the interloper words as identified in the introduction. Woodworth came to the conclusion that these words hindered the brain from retrieving the actual name from the long-term memory. To prove his findings woodworth claimed that the other words interfered with retrieval of the target word through a process referred to as blockage of the retrieval pathway. This conclusion conflicted with many researchers and experts carried on with the research where other findings were arrived at. A research by Brown and McNeil (1966) disapproved of Woodworth’s idea by claiming that the interlopers did not block the mind from retrieving the target name but in return they helped the brain retrieve the particular name.

Save Time On Research and Writing
Hire a Pro to Write You a 100% Plagiarism-Free Paper.
Get My Paper

The research indicated that the process of the brain giving names similar to the target word helped in the brain retrial process of the correct word. This was proven with a different research which showed that the interloper words were closely connected to the target word. This could only mean that the brain uses the other words to draw a connection between the memories and reach the correct word. During the research, the researchers also came up with another finding that the older people were likely to experience the TOT but also this showed that they had fewer interlopers from them. With the new findings this gave room for more research where Jones (1989) came in with his different perspective in relation to TOT. for this particular research jones was more interested with the interlopers, as seen the research took a totally different approach where rather than letting the participant report interlopers he went ahead and provided the interloper and divided them into three categories which were namely, semantic interlopers, phonological interlopers and the unrelated interlopers.

Exploration of research findings on TOT

“Definition: “A person unnecessarily anxious about their health”.

Phonologically related interloper: ‘hemispherical’

Target word: ‘hypochondriac’

Save Time On Research and Writing
Hire a Pro to Write You a 100% Plagiarism-Free Paper.
Get My Paper

Definition: “Stoppered glass vessel in which spirits are brought to the table”

Semantically-related interloper: ‘carafe’

Target word: ‘decanter’

Definition: “Someone who listens to other peoples’ conversations”

Unrelated interloper: ‘unavailable’

Target word: ‘eavesdropper’”

Phonological interlopers were those words that sounded similar with the target word, the semantic interlopers were the words that had the same meaning as that o the target word but had a different pronunciation and for the unrelated interlopers they had no relation at all with the target word. He came to the conclusion that the interloper category that was more realized was the phonological interlopers as compared to the semantic and unrelated interlopers.  This led to the next sophisticated research which was carried out by Perfect and Hanley (1992), the research worked on a number of flaws that were present on jones research.

This research is very important to us since this is a situation experienced by every one and their ha been no conclusive scientific evidence that explains what happens to the brain during the TOT state.  The difference when it comes to this particular study is that instead of calculating the percentage of times participants felt they were in a TOT state across a whole set of definitions, we will focus on asking a larger sample of participants about one single definition, and will look at the frequency with which participants (a) give the answer straightaway, (b) report being in a TOT state or (b) say that they do not know the word. word.  This will improve power (larger sample), but more importantly we can also see whether the presence of a phonological interloper may affect participants’ impressions that they ‘know straightaway’ or ‘do not know’ the word, as well as the number of TOT states. Perfect and Hanley found roughly same proportion of TOTs for interloper vs. non-interloper conditions, but it is possible that proportions of know straightaway vs. no not know could have altered and we would not know from their analysis.  Perfect and Hanley obtained floor effects, with only 23% of definitions producing a TOT experience, so we chose one of the definitions which produced higher TOT rates. If interlopers hinder retrieval (as argued by Woodworth and Jones) the proportion of TOTs may not differ but fewer participants might retrieve the word straight away and more might think that they did not know the word (total retrieval failure).  However, it may be that Perfect and Hanley’s sample size was too small to detect differences and so a larger sample size will be used here, and we will test to see if number of TOTs are higher in the interloper condition (as well as number of ‘do not know’ responses).

Impact of phonological, semantic, and unrelated interlopers

Conducting the study will involve a number of participants. There are 82 undergraduates who are between the age of 20 to 51. This give an average age of34.8 in general. The number of mails among the participants being 13, and 69 females. The right and ethical procedures were utilized in bringing in the participants hence giving the research the right to utilize the information gathered from the participants

All the participants were given the definitions of the following words; Cellar, subterranean cemetery, with recesses for tombs.

  • Both groups were given the same definitions and asked to retrieve the target word. 
  • experimental group given a phonological interloper immediately afterwards, but the control group were not given an interloper at all.
  • Note that in our study we are only using one definition 
  • Before the experiment the experimental group were told that they would receive “an interloper which is not itself the target but which might or might not be related to the target” (they were not told how they might be related). 
  • Definition read out to participant. 
  • in the experimental group experimenter tapped the table and read out the interloper.  After 4 seconds the definition was repeated (and interloper for the experimental group).
  • Participants were given a piece of paper with three boxes on it, labelled ‘know’, ‘tip of tongue’ and ‘don’t know’.  They were instructed that if they knew the word immediately they should write it down in the ‘know’ box, if they were convinced that they did know the word but it was ‘on the tip of their tongue’ (whether it came to them during the time of the experiment or not) they should tick the ‘tip of tongue’ box, and if they did not know the word, they should tick the ‘don’t know’ box.  They were given half a minute from when the experimenter finished speaking, to fill in the sheet of paper.

It is important to identify the terms that would disqualify a participant: if any of the participant was to enter a word in the know box for the result which was wrong then they would b taken off the study. But incase the meaning was similar to the target word then it was categorized under the known response. (There were only three cases of participants providing a different word, and in all cases, they had a meaning related to that of the target word – two wrote “mausoleum” and one ‘sepulchre’) Misspellings or approximations of the target word (e.g. one participant rather amusingly wrote “cat comb’, and another spelled it “catakoom”) were also counted as correct ‘know responses.


Interloper condition

No-interloper present







Don’t know



From the gathered results it is evident that the introduction of interloper and non-interlopers to the participants had a significant effect to the entire study. The participant knew the target word while on the other hand a bigger number happened to know the target word as well. This was also evident with the TOT. this shows that among all the previously covered information, the research by Woolworth had a significant contribution to the research in relation to TOT and the implications of the introduction of the interlopers. The introduction of a higher number of participants helped in providing a more accurate analysis of the information. The result shows that there was a possibility that the interlopers affect the brains ability to trigger an old memory but the margin between the two possibilities not that huge, this makes it slightly confusing as to whether the finding from both Woolworth and brown and McNeil were closely the same in relation to the conducted research (Drevets & Lickley,2017, August). Among the participant there was a category of those participants who failed to not know the target word despite the two conditions, this category failed to either get the effect of the interloper and the no interloper category. From the results it is possible for one to probably come to a number of conclusions. The first conclusion s the interlopers do not affect the ability of the brain to access the long-term memory (O’séaghdha & Frazer, 2014). They do not block the brain in any way also it is possible to clearly state that despite the nature of the interlopers phonologically related interlopers or semantic interlopers they also do not affect the brains ability to trigger the long-term memory. From the research the brains way of coordinating and remembering the target name is hardly explainable (Henderson & Wright, 2016). While on the other hand it is possible to state that the interlopers block the brain from accessing the long-term memory as see, the number of participants who got the target name with no interloper introduced to them was slightly higher that those participants who interlopers introduced. Conclusively all the provided hypothesis and finding from the other research ere applicable and productive for the research carried out.


Drevets, M., & Lickley, R. (2017, August). A psycholinguistic exploration of disfluency behavior during the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon. In Proceedings of DiSS 2017: The 8th Workshop on Disfluency in Spontaneous Speech (Vol. 58, No. 1, pp. 21-24).

Henderson, A., & Wright, H. H. (2016). Cognition, language, and aging. Cognition, Language and Aging, 1.

Lickley, R., & Drevets, M. (2017, August). A psycholinguistic exploration of disfluency behavior during the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon. In Proceedings of DiSS 2017: The 8th Workshop on Disfluency in Spontaneous Speech.

O’séaghdha, P. G., & Frazer, A. K. (2014). The exception does not rule: Attention constrains form preparation in word production. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 40(3), 797.