Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Failed knowledge recall attempts are sometimes accompanied by a strong feeling of imminent success, giving rise to a “tip-of-the-tongue” (TOT) experience. Similar to successful retrieval (i.e., the Know state, K), a TOT commences with strong cue familiarity but involves only partial retrieval of related information. We sought to characterize the cognitive processes and temporal dynamics of these retrieval states and to extend the applicability of previous findings about TOT to the auditory modality. Participants heard 3-sec initial segments of popular songs and were asked to recall their names. EEG was recorded while participants indicated their retrieval state via button press. Stimulus-locked analyses revealed a significant early left fronto-central difference between TOT and K, at 300–550 msec postcue onset. Post hoc analysis revealed that, in this time window, TOT also differed from DK (Don't Know) responses, which themselves were similar to the K responses. This finding indicates that neural processes, which may reflect strategy selection, ease of semantic processing, familiarity-related processes, or conflict monitoring, are indicative of the fate of our knowledge judgments long before we actually execute them.