Definition: TOT phenomenon is the inability to recall a word, while knowing that it is in memory. This is usually due to another memory creating a blockade and denying access to it

Quite simply ...

  • T.O.T stands for "tip of the tongue
  • Having heard, seen, or experienced something before, but not being able to recall what the stimulus you are trying to remember is called.
  • Something that can't be immediately recalled because the memory is being blocked by another, but after a minute or so you remember what it was.
  • Not being able to say/remember a word even though it's in your memory. Further prompting may result in the ability to finally recall the word.
  • Sometimes the reason you cannot remember the term you are thinking of, is because the retrieval cue is not valid.

Examples Of TOT Phenomenon

  • Someone describes a familiar movie scene to you and although you know what the movie is called, you just cannot recall the title.
  • When you cannot recall the answer to a question on a test but you remember looking at the word minutes ago before the test (while studying)
  • Trying to remember a key term for an LRQ, knowing that the answer is in the back of your mind.
  • Watching jepordy and believeing you know the answer, but you just can't remember it before it is said
  • When you try to remember your favorite movie and you can't think of the name, but you can recall certain scenes and actors from it.
  • " I know the name of that movie! It has that blonde chick in it who dated whats his face. Come on, you know what I'm talking about! What's the name?"
  • When you're trying to remember who the 13th president was and you know what he did but you can't remember his name.


An experiment was done with 102 university students to test the TOT phenomena. The experiment tested TOTimals or imaginary animals and the students ability to recall them.. For example, in one experiment a list of TOTimals was studied and was then tested to induce the TOT state as the students tried to recall the names. They were shown pictures of the animals as cues to recall the animals. In both experiments high TOT frequencies were recorded, suggesting that the students had some sort of familiarity with the TOTimals. For the unrecalled items students experienced feelings of knowing, recognition, and the correct recall of the first letter were higher for words in TOT states rather than not in TOT states. What can be concluded is that names that were in TOT states more often triggered students memories in which the name was on the "tip of their tounge".

In 1966 R. Brown and D. McNeill did an experiment on people to test the TOT phenomena (tip of the tongue). In the experiment Brown and McNeill gave each person the meaning of a random word. They explained to all the people that if they couldn't think of the word that went with the meaning they were told but felt like they did know it then they were in a TOT state. Which means the word is on the "tip of their tongue." They found out that people said that they went into a TOT state for about 13% of the random meanings of different words.
  • Jones, G. V., & Langford, S. (1987). Phonological blocking in the tip of the tongue state. Cognition, 26(2), 115-122.