What causes that “it’s-on-the-tip-of-my-tongue” feeling?

We’re not sure but emotional cues tie into it somehow:

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 cues increase the likelihood of TOTs. These data are consistent with a metacognitive view of TOTs.

Source: “The effects of emotion on tip-of-the-tongue states” from Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

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