Phonological Priming Effects on Word Retrieval and Tip-of-the-Tongue Experiences

 in Young and Older Adults

             Lori E. James                         Deborah M. Burke

Claremont Graduate University         Pomona College      




James, L.E. &, Burke, D.M. (2000). Phonological priming effects on word retrieval and tip-of-the-tongue experiences in young and older adults. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition. 26, 1378-1391.


In a repetition priming paradigm, young and older participants read aloud prime words which sometimes shared phonological components with a target word that answered a general knowledge question. In Experiment 1, prior processing of phonologically related words decreased tip-of-the-tongue states (TOTs) and increased correct responses to subsequent questions.  In Experiment 2, the priming task occurred only when the participant could not answer the question. Processing phonologically related words increased correct recall, but only when the participant was in a TOT state.  Phonological priming effects were age invariant, although older adults produced relatively more TOTs.  Results support the Transmission Deficit model that the weak connections among phonological representations that cause TOTs are strengthened by production of phonologically related words. There was no evidence that phonologically related words block TOT targets.

Phonological Priming Effects on Word Retrieval and Tip-of-the-Tongue Experiences

 in Young and Older Adults

            The tip of the tongue state (TOT) is a relatively common type of speech error in which a word retrieval failure is coupled with a strong feeling of knowing, and often with a considerable sense of frustration at the inaccessibility of the desired word.  Typically, a person can access semantic and syntactic properties of the TOT word and partial phonological properties such as initial sound or number of syllables, although the complete phonology remains inaccessible (e.g., A. Brown, 1991; R. Brown & McNeill, 1966; Koriat & Lieblich, 1974; Miozzo & Caramazza, 1997; Vigliocco, Antonini & Garrett, 1997).  Resolution of a TOT is as compelling as the TOT onset when it occurs spontaneously, with the target word popping into mind at a time when retrieval attempts have been abandoned (Burke, MacKay, Worthley & Wade, 1991; A. Brown, 1991; Reason & Lucas, 1984). In this paper we investigate phonological encoding processes that are fundamental to speech production and are implicated in the cause of TOTs and their spontaneous resolution.  We also investigate the role of phonological encoding processes in aging effects:  TOTs are a hallmark of old age, increasing in frequency with normal aging in both experimental and naturalistic studies (A. Brown & Nix, 1996; Burke et al., 1991; Cohen & Faulkner, 1986; Heine, Ober & Shenaut, 1999; Maylor, 1990b; Rastle & Burke, 1996) and ranking as older adults' most annoying cognitive failure (Lovelace & Twohig, 1990).

TOTs are a valuable source of information about the nature of the processes and architecture of the speech production system. They require production models, for example, to account for successful selection of semantic and lexical information but failed selection of phonological information during word retrieval (e.g., Bock & Levelt, 1994; Caramazza, 1997).  Models of speech production generally agree that semantic, lexical and phonological information are represented in independent systems and that production begins with conceptualization processes involving activation of semantic information and then selection of a syntactically specified lexical representation, followed by retrieval of corresponding phonological components of the word (e.g., Bock & Levelt, 1994; Burke et al., 1991; Caramazza, 1997; Dell, 1986; Harley & Bown, 1998; Levelt, Schriefers, Vorberg, Meyer, Pechmann & Havinga, 1991; MacKay, 1987;  Martin, Weisberg & Saffran, 1989).  The vulnerability of phonological retrieval to failure has been explained in the Transmission Deficit model of TOTs in terms of the strength of connections that transmit priming1 to phonological representations (Burke et al., 1991; MacKay & Burke, 1990). This model is a detailed version of an insufficient activation model of TOTs wherein retrieval fails because of incomplete activation of representations (e.g., Bowles, Obler & Poon, 1989; A. Brown & Nix, 1996; R. Brown & McNeill, 1966; Cohen & Faulkner, 1986; Harley & Bown, 1998; Meyer & Bock, 1992; Yaniv & Meyer, 1987; see A. Brown, 1991 for a review).

Under the Transmission Deficit (TD) model, TOTs occur when the strength of connections among phonological nodes is too weak to transmit sufficient priming for activation of the complete phonology of the TOT target word. The TD model is based on a general interactive activation model of language production and perception, Node Structure Theory (NST), in which priming is a form of subthreshold excitation that prepares a node for activation or retrieval. The strength of connections to nodes determines the rate and amount of priming transmitted to them and is an important determinant of what information in memory becomes available (MacKay, 1987). Recent and frequent activation of nodes, in production of a word for example, strengthens connections increasing priming transmission, whereas aging weakens connections, reducing priming transmission (Burke et al., 1991;  Burke & MacKay, 1997; MacKay & Burke, 1990). Because connection strength declines over time in the absence of activation, the TD account explains why TOTs, although involving familiar words (see A. Brown, 1991), are more likely for low than high frequency words and for words that have not been used recently (Burke et al. 1991; Harley & Bown, 1998; Rastle & Burke, 1996). The architecture of the phonological system renders it more vulnerable to transmission deficits than the semantic system because phonological nodes are generally linked by single connections rather than the multiple converging connections that characterize the semantic system (see Burke et al., 1991; Laver & Burke, 1993; MacKay & Abrams, 1996).  This explains why access to phonology declines with aging (as indicated by increased TOTs) but access to the meaning of words, as measured by vocabulary tests (e.g., Schaie, 1996) or experimental semantic retrieval tasks (e.g., Light,1992), does not decline, at least until very old age.

We test the TD model of TOTs using a repetition priming paradigm in which participants read prime words sharing phonological components with a target word that answers a general knowledge question. We constrain repetition effects to the phonological level by eliminating overlap between prime and target at the perceptual2, lexical and semantic levels. For example, representations for the prime word pellet and the target word velcro shown in Figure 1 overlap only at the phonological level, in this case at the nodes for  /el/ . Darker lines indicate phonological connections strengthened by production of pellet. Inasmuch as a TOT for velcro is caused by transmission deficits among phonological connections for /el/ , strengthening these connections by saying pellet should reduce the likelihood of a TOT for velcro, or increase the likelihood of resolution if a TOT for velcro has already occurred.  Indeed, these predicted results would support the proposal that spontaneous resolution of TOTs in everyday life is triggered by phonological priming.  It has been suggested that a TOT target word pops into mind "spontaneously" when phonological components of the word occur inadvertently during conversation and provide a boost in priming to the phonological nodes suffering from transmission deficits (Burke et al., 1991; Seifert, Meyer, Davidson, Patalano & Yaniv, 1994; Yaniv & Meyer, 1987).

Non-perceptual repetition priming effects on word production are well established, but only when repetition at a lexical level is involved.  For example, young adults' picture naming was facilitated by prior production of the picture name in response to a printed word or definition (A. Brown, Neblett, Jones & Mitchell, 1991; Durso & Johnson, 1979; Park & Gabrieli, 1995; Wheeldon & Monsell, 1992.).  Similarly, correct responses to general knowledge questions increased with prior processing of the responses (e.g., Blaxton, 1989; Kelley & Lindsay, 1993; Yaniv, Meyer & Davidson, 1995) and this priming effect was invariant with aging (Rastle & Burke, 1996; Small, Hultsch & Masson, 1995).  The type of prior processing of target words influenced priming effects for responses to general knowledge questions and provided evidence for the phonological locus of the retrieval failure in TOTs.  Prior semantic processing increased correct production of targets more than prior phonological processing, but the two types of processing were equally effective in reducing TOTs, presumably because both required pronunciation which strengthened phonological connections (Rastle & Burke, 1996).

Only a few studies, however, have investigated phonological priming effects on production while eliminating prime-target overlap at the lexical level.  These studies provide little evidence of priming effects.  Prior production of a homophone in response to a definition (e.g., One grows at the end of each finger) speeded naming of a subsequent picture (e.g., nail [e.g., hammer]), but the effect was marginally significant and held only for same spelling homophones, not for differently spelled homophones (e.g., son/sun) (Wheeldon & Monsell, 1992).  Valentine, Moore and Bredart (1995) found that prior production of homophones of the surnames of the people (e.g., bush [e.g., shrub]) produced no significant priming effect on naming latency of pictures of famous people (e.g., Bush).

The duration of the prime to target-generation interval in these studies is standard for repetition priming paradigms, ranging from several minutes to 20 minutes or more. The mechanism responsible for a priming effect, were it to be observed, is a relatively long-term change in connection strength, the mechanism of interest in the present research (MacKay, 1987; Valentine et al., 1995; Wheeldon & Monsell, 1992).  In contrast, researchers using a very brief prime to target-generation interval of a few hundred milliseconds, reported that phonologically related prime words facilitated picture naming and they attributed this to a different mechanism: a very short-lived, residual priming in nodes common to the prime and target or that spreads from prime to target (Collins & Ellis, 1992; McEvoy, 1988; Meyer & Schriefers, 1991; Schriefers, Meyer & Levelt, 1990). Repetition priming paradigms, including the present research, are generally designed to eliminate the contribution of this mechanism via the delay between prime word processing and the target production task (see Wheeldon & Monsell, 1994 for discussion of this issue).

            Another approach to investigating phonological priming effects on production has yielded quite different results. In this approach, participants are presented definitions of low frequency words, followed by a word cue related to the target word.  In studies where cuing occurs before the participant answers the questions, Meyer and Bock (1992) reported that phonologically related cue words sharing the initial sound, number of syllables and stress pattern with the target word increased production of targets more than unrelated or semantically related cue words. Using similarly constructed phonological cues, Perfect and Hanley (1992) also obtained a beneficial effect on target production, although smaller and only compared to unrelated cues. These studies, however, reported little effect of phonologically related cues on TOTs.  Meyer and Bock (1992) found a marginally significant reduction in TOTs with phonologically related compared to unrelated cues, and Perfect and Hanley (1992) reported no reduction compared to an unrelated or no cue condition. In studies where cuing occurred after a participant had failed to produce the correct reponse to a definition, there was no difference in the number of TOTs remaining after phonologically related and unrelated cues (Meyer & Bock, 1992).  Correct responses, however, increased with presentation of a phonologically similar word (Kozlowski, 1977; Meyer & Bock, 1992), the initials for proper names (e.g., Brennen, Baguley, Bright & Bruce, 1990), or the initial letters of the target word (e.g., Freedman & Landauer, 1966; Gruneberg & Monks, 1974; Hanley & Cowell, 1988; Heine et al., 1999).

As Meyer and Bock pointed out, facilitatory effects in these cuing paradigms may reflect strategic retrieval processes, not processes involved in normal word retrieval.  A single prime or cue was presented with each question and participants knew that the prime was sometimes related to the target and that it might aid recall of the target.  Participants may have used this information to improve performance, for example, by generating word candidates sharing phonology with the prime or by rejecting responses dissimilar in sound to the prime.  The present research aims to determine whether phonological priming effects on responses to general knowledge questions are obtained in a procedure that minimizes strategic processes and is more similar to repetition priming paradigms such as Wheeldon and Monsell (1992).

            Different predictions for the effects of phonologically related words on production are made by an alternative, inhibition explanation of TOTs in which TOTs are caused by blocking of the intended word by a more accessible alternate word that comes to mind first (e.g., A. Brown, 1979; Jones, 1989; Jones & Langford, 1987; Reason & Lucas, 1984; Roediger, 1974; Woodworth, 1929; see A. Brown, 1991 for a review).  These alternate words usually share initial phonemes and number of syllables with the intended word (Burke et al., 1991; Kohn, Wingfield, Menn, Goodglass, Berko Gleason & Hyde, 1987).  Under the Inhibition hypothesis, processing a word phonologically related to the intended word blocks its retrieval, increasing the probability of a TOT.  Jones (1989; Jones & Langford, 1987; see also Maylor, 1990a) provided support for this hypothesis, reporting that TOT inducing questions presented with a word phonologically related to the answer produced more TOTs than questions presented with a word not phonologically related.  Two studies, however, provide evidence that this influential result occurred because specific questions were assigned to only one cue word condition and the questions assigned to the phonologically related word condition produced more TOTs than questions assigned to other conditions, independent of prime word (Meyer & Bock, 1992; Perfect & Hanley, 1992).  These two studies provide no evidence that phonologically related words impair retrieval.  Despite the absence of supporting evidence and the availability of counter evidence, the blockingexplanation of TOTs has a tenacious hold and is widely cited (e.g., Schacter, 1999).

            There is, however, evidence that once a TOT occurs, an alternate word that comes to mind spontaneously will delay resolution.  Burke et al. (1991) reported that young and older adults' took considerably longer to resolve naturally occurring TOTs that were accompanied by persistent alternate words, most of which shared phonological features with the target, than to resolve TOTs without alternates.  Similarly, laboratory induced TOTs were much less likely to be resolved during the experiment if they occurred with alternates than if they did not.  Burke et al. argued that alternates are a consequence not a cause of TOTs and are activated when the target word cannot be retrieved. Once the alternate word is activated, its lexical node is more accessible than the target's until the effects of the recent activation of the alternate subside (see Burke et al., 1991).  It is an interesting paradox that spontaneously occuring alternate words delayed TOT resolution whereas in another study phonologically related words presented by the experimenter facilitated TOT resolution (e.g., Meyer & Bock, 1992).  In Experiment 2, we examine further the effect of related words on TOT resolution.

The present research was designed to test the prediction of the TD model that production of words phonologically related to a target word will reduce TOTs for the target or increase resolution if a TOT for the target has already occurred.  Within this framework, the mechanism responsible for improved target retrieval is a relatively long-term change in connection strength that occurs without the participant's awareness.  To investigate this process, it is essential to eliminate retrieval or guessing strategies based on prime words because these might mimic positive priming effects.  Previous studies of the effects of phonologically related words on production of answers to questions have presented a single cue word which is phonologically related on 33% or more of the trials.  We designed our experiment with the paramount goal of measuring priming effects without the participant's awareness of the relation between prime words and targets, thereby eliminating retrieval strategies.  Several aspects of our methodology were critical for this goal.

First, for a given target word, processing of prime words was accomplished in a pronunciation rating task that was introduced as a task completely separate from the question answering. Second, the priming stimulus for a single question was not a single word but 10 words which participants read aloud and rated on pronunciation difficulty.  On half of the trials, the 10 words were all phonologically unrelated to the target; on the other half of the trials, five of the words were unrelated and five were phonologically related to the target.  This relatively large number of words for a single target disguised prime target relatedness and made quite onerous any attempt at strategic use of the words, if they could be remembered.  Moreover, there were no clues to which list contained related words, no clues to which words, if any, were related, and no indication that any word was ever related to the target word.  Third, the relatedness between target and prime words was difficult to notice even if the target was produced because a related prime word and the target often overlapped only in one or two phonemes, and most were not initial phonemes. The related words could not be distinguished from the unrelated words because they were not related to each other any more than the unrelated words were related to each other: Phonological segments repeated among related words on a list as little as possible and any overlap in phonemes among list words occurred equally often on related and unrelated lists.  For example, in the related list shown in Figure 2 for the target abdicate, related words indigent and tradition overlap with each other, but so do unrelated words tappet and velvet.  Related words truncate and locate overlap, but truncate and tradition also overlap in components that are not shared with the target.  Thus repeated phonological components within a list were not a clue to the phonology of the target nor did they identify the related words. The unrelated list for abdicate was: vector, rejoicing, serious, tappet, liniment, velvet, procedure, reread, publish, older.  These unrelated words overlapped, eliminating overlap as a clue to relatedness, e.g., tappet and velvet, vector and velvet, rejoicing and reread, procedure and publish. Finally, the presentation rate for prime words was brisk, allowing little time for strategies.

Experiment 1

In this experiment, we presented the pronunciation task before each question to examine the effect of phonologically related prime words on correct responses and TOTs in both young and older adults. While processing prior to the production task is standard in repetition priming paradigms, this procedure has not been used in studies of phonological effects on TOTs, with one exception (Jones, 1989). The TD model predicts an increase in correct recall via a decrease in TOTs because the prime words strengthen phonological connections that are vulnerable to transmission deficits.

As for aging and priming effects, no age differences were obtained in two studies showing repetition priming effects on responses to general knowledge questions (Rastle & Burke, 1996; Small et al., 1995).  Repetition priming effects, in general, show little age difference in individual studies, although slightly smaller effects for older adults emerge in meta-analyses (e.g., LaVoie & Light, 1994). Under the TD model, repetition at the lexical or phonological level improves retrieval by strengthening existing connections, a process that is age invariant (MacKay & Burke, 1990). Thus, although older adults are more susceptible to TOTs because they are more likely to suffer transmission deficits, the benefit from phonological priming should be equivalent in young and older adults and any age difference in TOTs should remain.

The results are also relevant to the Inhibition hypothesis which predicts a decrease in correct recall and an increase in TOTs following phonologically similar prime words.  Although this hypothesis has received little support in previous studies, strategic use of phonologically related cue words may have offset any negative effect. It has been proposed that inhibitory processes are less efficient in old age (Hasher & Zacks, 1988); thus any blocking effect by related prime words should be smaller for older than young adults within this framework.


            Participants.  Thirty six young (M=19.4 years, SD=1.3) and 36 healthy older adults (M=72.0 years, SD=5.1) participated in the experiment.  Young adults participated for credit in introductory psychology courses and older adults were paid for their participation.  Mean score on the Nelson-Denny vocabulary test was lower for young (M=17.4, SD=2.8) than older participants (M=21.6, SD=3.0), t(67)=6.04, p<.001.  Mean years of education were 13.4 (SD=1.2) and 16.5 (SD=3.6) for young and older adults, respectively.  All participants were native English speakers.

            Materials.  One hundred fourteen questions each answered by a single, low-frequency word, were selected from a pool of questions used in previous studies to induce TOT states (e.g., Burke et al., 1991; Yaniv & Meyer, 1987).  When relevant data were available, questions were selected that elicited comparable numbers of TOTs in young and older adults so as to maximize the number of TOTs elicited in the experiment.  For each of the 114 target words, two lists of ten words were compiled.  A related list contained five words phonologically related to the target and five words phonologically unrelated to the target, and an unrelated list contained ten words unrelated to the target.  All list words were semantically unrelated to the target.  The phonologically related words were selected from the dictionary on the basis of sharing one or more phonemes with the target word. Syntactic class of prime words was not controlled, but on average 3.14 out of the 5 phonologically related prime words shared syntactic class with the target word. The Appendix presents the target words and phonologically related prime words used in Experiments 1 and 2, and indicates overlap in phonemes and grammatical class.

Certain constraints were placed on selection of phonologically related words to minimize participants' awareness of their phonological similarity to target words.  For two-syllable targets, only one of the five related words shared a whole syllable with the target word; the other four related words shared only parts of syllables (e.g., the initial or final phoneme of the first syllable).  For targets with three or more syllables, most related list words shared only one syllable with the target.  The five unrelated words in the related list were matched with the phonologically related words on number of syllables and frequency (Francis & Kucera, 1982), but shared no phonology with the target.  The unrelated list contained the five unrelated words from the related list and five new unrelated words matched on number of syllables and frequency.  For each participant, half the questions were associated with a related list and half with an unrelated list with the assignment of questions to list type counterbalanced over participants.

            A multiple-choice recognition test included the question and four possible answers: the target, a phonologically related word (not a prime word), a semantically related word, and an unrelated word.

            Procedure.  A Macintosh computer presented instructions and stimuli, and also recorded responses.  The instructions informed participants that: "An answer is on the 'tip of your tongue' (TOT) if you know you know the answer, but you cannot produce the answer at this moment.  You are only in a TOT state if you are SURE you know the correct answer.  Being able to recognize the correct answer if it were presented to you is NOT the same as being in a TOT state."  The instructions also indicated that the list pronunciation task was unrelated to the general knowledge questions.

            The events on a trial are shown in Figure 2. A related or unrelated list of words was presented one word at a time on the monitor. Participants pronounced each word aloud and rated it on pronunciation difficulty, with 1 being "very easy" and 5 being "very difficult."  Each word remained on the screen for four seconds or until the response, whichever came first. Immediately after the tenth word, a question appeared on the computer monitor, and participants responded by typing on the keyboard 1, 2, or 3 to indicate TOT, Don't Know or Know, respectively. After a Know response, participants typed in the word and then immediately the next trial began with presentation of the pronunciation list for the next question.  After a TOT or Don't Know response, the next trial began immediately with presentation of the pronunciation list.  Each question was presented only once and no backtracking or changing previous responses was possible.

After two practice trials and the first 60 experimental trials, participants took a break during which they completed a background questionnaire and the vocabulary test.  Then they performed the remaining 54 trials.  Following all trials, questions that had elicited a TOT response were presented in the paper and pencil multiple choice recognition test.  Participants were told to circle the word for which they were having a TOT, to verify that their TOT state was for the intended target word.

Results and Discussion

            Table 1 presents the percentages of correct Know, TOT, and Don't Know responses following related (primed) and unrelated (unprimed) lists by age group.  The analysis of Know responses excluded trials on which a participant responded Know and typed an incorrect answer. Such incorrect Know responses occurred on 9.2% and 15.7% of trials for young and older adults, respectively. The analysis of TOT responses excluded trials on which a participant responded TOT but did not select the target word on the multiple choice test. Such incorrect TOTs occurred on 5.0% and 3.9% of trials for young and older adults, respectively. An ANOVA with age and prime condition as factors was performed on number of responses, separately for Know and TOT responses.  Because the different types of responses are not independent, we limit the analyses to these primary measures. We report analyses by participant (F1) and by item (F2).

 More correct Know responses followed related than unrelated lists, F1(1,70) = 12.19, MSE = 21.23, p<.01, F2 (1,113) = 25.20, MSE = 3.38, p < .01, and older adults produced more correct Know responses than young adults, F1(1,70) = 4.19, MSE = 112.87, p<.05, F2(1,113) = 9.72, MSE = 15.85, p < .01.  There was no prime condition by age interaction, F1 (1,70) = .003, MSE = 21.23  and F2 = .01, MSE = 3.36.  As can be seen in Table 1, the priming effect (the difference between primed and unprimed Know responses) was virtually identical for young and older adults, 4.6 and 4.8 respectively. The unbiased effect size for the age difference in priming effects, calculated following the procedures of Wolf (1986) and Hedges (1984), was essentially zero, d = .006, suggesting that the absence of a significant age interaction with prime condition was not a power problem.

Fewer TOTs followed related than unrelated lists, F1(1,70) = 6.34, MSE = 7.18, p<.05, F2 (1,113) = 6.78, MSE = 2.17, p < .05. This effect is more apparent in absolute number of TOTs than in percentage, with the young M = 5.86 and 6.69 and the old M = 6.44 and 7.86 for related and unrelated lists, respectively. The effect of age on number of TOTs was not significant, F1(1,70) = 1.04, MSE = 26.43, F2 (1,113) = 2.61, MSE =3.23, both p's > .10, and there was no age by prime condition interaction,  F1(1,70) = .43, MSE = 3.06, F2 (1,113) = .49, MSE = .88, both p's > .40. As can be seen in Table 1, the priming effect was slightly smaller for young than older adults, 1.4 and 2.5, respectively.  The unbiased effect size for the age difference in priming effects, d = .155, is a small effect size (Cohen, 1992).  To obtain significance with a small effect size at p = .05 and .80 level of power requires 393 participants per group (Cohen, 1992).

 Although TOTs usually increase in old age, the lack of age differences here is unsurprising because we selected questions that produced the most TOTs and smallest age difference in TOTs in previous studies. Nonetheless, TOTs can only occur when a word is not immediately recalled and older adults produced more correct answers than young adults. To adjust for any possible age differences in opportunity for TOTs, we calculated TOTs as a proportion of unsuccessful retrievals, e.g., incorrect Know, incorrect TOT, TOT (correct) and Don't Know responses (A. Brown & Nix, 1996; Burke et al., 1991 ). The proportion of TOTs (converted in Table 1 to percentage) was lower following related than unrelated lists, F1(1,70) = 5.09, MSE = .00, p<.05, F2 (1,113) = 6.43, MSE = .00, p < .05.  This relative proportion of TOTs was greater for older than young adults, F1(1,70)=5.23, MSE=.02, p<.05, F2 (1,113) = 3.53, MSE = .00, p = .06.

To summarize these results, prior processing of phonologically related words increased correct retrieval of target words and reduced TOTs. The pattern of priming effects is consistent with the TD model that production strengthens connections in the phonological system, reducing deficits in transmission of priming and thereby reducing TOTs for words that share the same connections (see Figure 1). There was no age difference in phonological priming effects on production of correct responses or TOTs, and the age difference in TOTs as a proportion of incorrect responses remained in the primed condition. Under the TD model, the baseline strength of connections is reduced by aging, making older adults more susceptible to retrieval failures. Within this framework, the age invariance in priming effects indicates that increments in connection strength caused by activation are similar across age. The age invariance in priming effects also is inconsistent with a strategic basis for priming because episodic recall declines with age (e.g., Burke & Light, 1981) so young adults would be more successful than older adults in remembering list words after the question was presented, and this would yield greater cuing effects, were such a strategy used. Finally, both the age invariance in priming effects and the positive nature of priming effects provide no support for inhibitory effects of phonologically related words.  

Experiment 2

In Experiment 2, the pronunciation task was presented after the general knowledge question and only when there was no word produced in response to the question: When participants responded TOT or Don't Know, they performed the pronunciation rating task and then again attempted to answer the question. Under the TD model, processing phonologically related words should increase the strength of weak phonological connections causing TOTs and thereby promote retrieval and resolution of the TOT. In addition to the theoretical implications, observing this predicted effect would provide insight into a possible mechanism producing spontaneous resolution of naturally occurring TOTs, namely that they are triggered by phonological priming from language input.  On the other hand, if phonologically related words block target retrieval either through inhibition (Jones, 1989) or through their increased accessibility (Burke et el., 1991) then they should reduce TOT resolution. 


            Participants.    Eighteen young adults (M=18.6 years, SD=1.4) and 18 healthy older adults (M=71.8 years, SD=5.1) participated in the experiment.  Young adults received credit in Introductory Psychology courses and older adults were paid for their participation.  Mean score on the Nelson-Denny vocabulary measure was lower for young (M=17.4, SD=2.0) than older participants (M=22.5, SD=1.3), t(33)= 8.78, p<.001.  Mean years of education were 13.1 (SD=1.1) and 17.1 (SD=2.3) for young and older adults, respectively.  All participants were native English speakers.

            Materials.  Eighty general knowledge questions were selected from the same sources as in Experiment 1 and in some cases were the same questions used in Experiment 1.  The phonologically related and unrelated lists and the multiple-choice recognition test were constructed as in Experiment 1 (see Appendix). For each participant, half the questions were associated with a related list and half with an unrelated list with the assignment of questions to list type counterbalanced over participants.  This assignment was done in advance of the participants' responses but it determined which prime condition was presented when a TOT or Don't Know response was given.

            Procedure. The computer program designed for Experiment 1 was modified so that each trial began with the the general knowledge question. Participants indicated on the keyboard one of three responses: Know, Don't Know or TOT as in Experiment 1.  After a Know response, participants typed in the word.  After a TOT or Don't Know response, a related or unrelated list of words was presented one word at a time.  Participants pronounced each word aloud and rated it on pronunciation difficulty, with 1 being "very easy" and 5 being "very difficult."  Then the question was re-presented.  Participants who now knew the answer typed in the word and proceeded to the next trial, and participants who still had a TOT or did not know the answer went immediately to the next trial.  No backtracking or changing previous responses was possible.

            Participants were given two practice trials followed by 80 experimental trials.  After completing a background questionnaire and the vocabulary measure, participants were re-presented the questions that had elicited a TOT response on their second presentation. Questions that were not answered on this post-session presentation were presented in a multiple choice recognition test. All other aspects of the procedure followed Experiment 1.

Results and Discussion

            Table 2 presents the percentage of correct Know, TOT, and Don't Know responses on the initial presentation of the questions by age group. The analysis of Know responses excluded trials on which a participant responded Know and typed an incorrect answer, 10.4% and 16.3% of trials for young and older adults, respectively. The analysis of TOT responses excluded trials on which a participant responded TOT initially, but produced an incorrect answer on a subsequent presentation of the question or did not select the target word on the multiple choice test, 6.9% and 8.0% of trials for young and older adults, respectively .

One way ANOVAs on number of responses were performed separately for Know and TOT responses with age as a factor using both participants (F1) and items (F2) as unit.  Older adults produced more Know responses than young adults but this difference was smaller than in Experiment 1 and was not significant, F1 (1,34) = 1.12, MSE = 98.78, p = .30, F2 (1,79) = 2.18, MSE = 11.40, p = .14. Older adults produced more TOTs than young adults, although the effect reached significance only in the item analysis,  F1 (1,34) = 2.75, MSE = 25.29  p < .11, F2 (1,79) = 6.63, MSE = 1.91, p < .02. As in Experiment 1, the proportion of unsuccessful retrievals (Incorrect Know, Don't Know, TOT (correct) and incorrect TOT responses) that were correct TOTs was greater for older than young adults, F1 (1,34) = 4.59, MSE=.009, p<.05, F2 (1,79) = 8.41, MSE = .03, p < .01. These proportions are shown as percentages in Table 2.

The effect of priming on resolution of TOT and Don't Know responses is shown in Table 3 for each age group. These data combine responses on the second and the final (end of session) presentations of the questions. Three young participants were excluded from this analysis because they had no TOTs in one of the prime conditions. An ANOVA with age, prime condition (related, unrelated), and original response (Don't Know, TOT) as variables was performed on proportion of correct responses. The analysis was performed with participants (F1) but not question (F2) as the unit because so few questions elicited TOTs for both young and older adults in both primed and unprimed conditions (see R. Brown & McNeill, 1966 and Burke et al., 1991 for discussion of the fragmentary data problem characteristic of TOTs).  More resolutions followed TOT than Don't Know responses F(1,31)=165.51, MSE =.064, p<.001, and related than unrelated lists, F(1,31)= 7.75, MSE =.037, p<.01. As can be seen in Table 3, the priming effect depended on original response, occurring for TOTs but not for Don't Know responses, F(1,31) = 7.19, MSE =.042, p <.02. There was no significant age by prime condition interaction, F(1,31) = .39, MSE =.042, and no other significant main effects or interactions. As can be seen in Table 3, the priming effect was slightly larger for young than older adults.  The unbiased effect size for the age difference in priming effects, d = .219, is a small effect size (Cohen, 1992) which requires approximately 393 participants per group to reach significance at p = .05 and a .80 level of power (Cohen , 1992). Note however, that the direction of the age difference in priming effects is in the opposite direction from Experiment 1.

 Because of the small number of TOTs in the primed and unprimed condition in Table 3, we also conducted a sign test to determine if the number of participants who recalled more targets in the primed condition than in the unprimed condition was greater than chance. Nine out of 13 young adults (excluding ties) recalled more targets in the primed than unprimed condition, p = .13 and 12 out of 15 older adults did so, p < .05.  For both ages combined, 21 out of 28 participants showed the priming effect, p < .01.

There is no evidence that the related prime condition improved retrieval following Don't Know responses.  We evaluated the possibility that the related prime condition increased the frequency that Don't Know responses were changed to correct TOT responses on the second or third question presentation. If the related prime condition increased priming at the lexical level in cases where participants believed they did not know the target word, then an increase in TOTs would occur (cf., Meyer & Bock, 1992). This occurred very infrequently, however, on less than 3.5% of trials in any condition or age, and there was no significant effect of age or condition. The lack of benefit from the related prime condition following a Don't Know response contrasts with Kozlowski's (1977) finding that a rhyming cue word increased target recall by the same amount both when participants were in a TOT state and when the answer was unknown. Kozlowski told participants that the cue word rhymed with the target sometimes and a rhyme cue was presented on half of the trials. Thus it seems likely that participants were able to use the cue in guessing strategies and to guess the correct answer regardless of whether or not they were in a TOT state. The absence of any effect of the related prime condition following Don't Know responses in the present study is consistent with participants being unaware of the the relation of list words to the target.

            Anecdotal comments during participant de-briefing were also consistent with participants' lack of awareness. Some subjects reported that they thought the purpose of the list words was to distract them from trying to answer the question and make retrieval more difficult, e.g., "I thought the list words were to confuse me."  There was nothing in their spontaneous comments to suggest that participants had gleaned the structure of the lists or had used a cuing strategy.  When de-briefed about the phonological relatedness, one participant replied, "I noticed that once after I remembered the word."  Not one subject reported using list words as cues.

            Given the absence of any indication that the benefit from the related prime condition was a consequence of strategies, the results support the TD hypothesis that TOTs are caused by weak phonological connections that can be strengthened by activation of the relevant phonological nodes, enabling production of the target.  These findings support the argument that spontaneous resolution of TOTs may be triggered by language input involving critical phonological components of the TOT target. Older adults reported more TOTs, but the effect of phonological processing was invariant across age suggesting that phonological activation produced a comparable change in connection strength in young and older adults.  The data provide no support for the view that phonologically related words block target retrieval. 

General Discussion

            The results demonstrate that processing phonologically related words reduces TOTs and increases retrieval of answers to general knowledge questions, under conditions that minimize the opportunity for strategic processes. In Experiment 1, prior production of words phonologically related to a target word increased production of the target in response to a general knowledge question and decreased the probability of TOT. Older adults produced relatively more TOTs than young adults, but because priming effects were age-invariant, the age difference remained in the primed condition. In Experiment 2, production of phonologically related words after the onset of a TOT increased the probability of resolution of the TOT. There was no comparable positive priming effect on retrieval following a Don't Know response. Older adults again produced more TOTs and priming effects on resolution were age invariant. These results contribute to our understanding of the mechanism producing TOTs and age-related changes in TOTs, and highlight the significance of priming effects in speech production.

            Interpretation of these results in terms of general language processes would be precluded by evidence that the results were influenced by strategies that are not part of normal language processing. The evidence suggests, however, that the experimental paradigm was successful in avoiding contamination by strategies. First, if related lists increased correct responses in Experiments 1 and 2 because participants compared possible responses to memorized list words, or guessed the target based on memorized list words, this effect should certainly be smaller in older than young adults, contrary to the findings. Older adults would be less able to remember list words because of age-related declines in episodic recall (e.g., Burke & Light, 1981). Second, the lack of priming effects on target retrieval following Don't Know responses in Experiment 2 provides counter evidence to the use of strategies to guess the target. Finally, anecdotal comments during participant de-briefing were consistent with participants being unaware of the relation of lists to targets.

Transmission Deficits versus Blocking as a Cause of TOTs

The results support the TD hypothesis that TOTs are caused by weak phonological connections that transmit insufficient priming to retrieve the phonology corresponding to an activated lexical representation for the target word.  Processing phonologically related words counteracts these transmission deficits by activating phonological representations shared with the target, thereby strengthening connections and enabling target retrieval.  The representations for prime and target words overlap only at the phonological level (see Figure 1).  Thus, the faciliatory priming effect locates the TOT deficit in these phonological connections under the TD model. The present research does not identify which aspects of the phonological overlap between prime and target words are critical for priming effects, but recent research in a similar paradigm has shown larger priming effects when words overlap in the initial rather than middle or final syllable (White & Abrams, 1999).

Would this increase in phonological connection strength be expected to facilitate lexical selection, for example, by improving target retrieval following a Don't Know response which occurs when no lexical node has been activated? Lexical selection is driven primarily by top-down semantic processes triggered by the question; phonological processes may play a role in lexical selection under interactive models of production, but not sequential stage models. In stage models of production (e.g., Levelt, 1989; Levelt, Schriefers, Vorberg, Meyer, Pechmann & Havinga, 1991), lexical and phonological retrieval are modular, sequential stages; lexical access is accomplished on the basis of semantic information without input from the phonological system, so changes in phonological connections would have no impact. In NST and other interactive activation models (e.g., Cutting & Ferreira, 1999; Dell, 1986; Dell & O'Seaghdha, 1991; MacKay, 1987; Martin, Weisberg & Saffran, 1989), priming spreads bi-directionally between lexical and phonological levels during lexical selection. Strengthening phonological connections relevant to the target word would increase transmission of priming back up to the target lexical node during lexical selection. In a Don't Know state where no word is selected, however, there is no basis for assuming that the target lexical node was even competing for lexical selection. Thus, it is unsurprising that phonological priming produced no improvement in correct retrieval following Don't Know responses in Experiment 2. 

            The results provide no support for an inhibitory effect of phonologically related words on target retrieval.  Some investigators have suggested that phonologically related alternate words that come to mind during a TOT are "blockers" that cause the TOT by inhibiting the intended word (e.g., Jones, 1989; Reason & Lucas, 1984). The only direct evidence that phonologically related words increase TOTs (Jones, 1989; Jones & Langford, 1987) appears to be a consequence of the specific questions assigned to this condition (see Meyer & Bock, 1992; Perfect & Hanley, 1992).  Thus, despite the strong phenomenological experience that alternate words "block" target retrieval, direct experimental tests of an inhibition model of TOTs have yielded negative results.  Nonetheless, further research on inhibitory effects may be motivated by findings that semantic similarity between prime and target words under certain conditions slowed naming latency (Wheeldon & Monsell, 1994), increased naming errors (e.g., Vitkovitch & Humphreys, 1991), and increased TOTs but without reducing correct recall (Meyer & Bock, 1992).  Moreover, resolution time was longer for naturally occurring TOTs with, than without, a persistent alternate word that came repeatedly to mind. Alternate words shared initial phoneme, number of syllables and syntactic class with target words at greater than chance probability (Burke et al, 1991), but their semantic overlap has not been evaluated. No research has yet constrained overlap between a phonologically related prime word and target on all these dimensions shown to be important in naturally occurring alternates. It remains for future research to determine under what conditions phonologically related words, shown to facilitate TOT resolution in the present research, will impede TOT resolution as do spontaneous persistent alternates.

Locus of Priming Effects

            Wheeldon and Monsell (1992) reported faster picture naming latency with prior production of a picture name, (e.g., sun), but not a homophone of the picture name (e.g., son). Based on these findings, they suggested that priming effects on word production require prime-target overlap at the lexical level, which does not occur with homophone primes.  The present results, however, demonstrate priming effects that depend on overlap at the phonological, not the lexical level. The discrepancy between the Wheeldon and Monsell results and the present results is likely because of the difference in the frequency of occurrence of the target words in the two studies.  That is, priming at the phonological level may only be observed in production tasks involving words with weak phonological connections, for example, low frequency words with relatively rare phonological components.  TOTs are more likely for low than high frequency words and for words with few rather than many phonological neighbors (Harley & Bown, 1998) because the infrequent activation of phonological components of these words makes them vulnerable to transmission deficits. Such words would be expected to benefit from activation of phonological components via pronounciation of a phonologically related prime word.

In contrast, Wheeldon and Monsell (1992) used words that name common objects (e.g., sun) and are unlikely candidates for weak phonological connections because of their relatively high frequency of occurrence. Such words may show no measurable long-term priming effect from phonologically related words because their connection strength at the phonological level is very high.  Note that this argument holds for longer-term priming effects based on changes in connection strength; it does not apply to short-lived priming effects occurring with brief prime-target intervals and resulting from a spread of priming from prime to target nodes.  There is considerable evidence that the latter mechanism produces phonological priming effects on high frequency words (e.g., Collins & Ellis, 1992; Schriefers, Meyer & Levelt, 1990).

Priming, Aging, and Word Retrieval

Evidence for older adults' word retrieval problems extends beyond studies of TOTs:  In their spoken discourse, older adults produced more pronouns and ambiguous references compared to young adults (Cooper, 1990; Heller & Dobbs, 1993; Pratt, Boyes, Robins & Manchester, 1989) and more disfluencies such as filled pauses, repetitions and hesitations, phenomena that appear to be linked to word retrieval difficulties (Cooper, 1990; Kemper, 1992).  Under the TD model, word retrieval failures increase in old age because aging reduces the strength of connections in memory. Diverging one-to-one connections, such as those involved in top-down phonological encoding (see Figure 1) are especially sensitive to transmission deficits caused by weakened connections because there are not additional sources of priming to compensate for reduced transmission (e.g., Burke et al., 1991; MacKay & Abrams, 1996; MacKay & Burke, 1990). We consider now what the age invariance in priming effects indicates about the nature of age differences in transmission deficits3.

Repetition priming effects rarely vary with age in individual studies, although small declines in older adults' priming effects emerge in meta-analyses. Some of the declines can be attributed to contamination by episodic memory which declines with age, but this factor alone cannot explain the extant results which are not well understood (Fleischman & Gabrieli, 1998; LaVoie & Light, 1994).  In the present research, the unbiased effect size for age differences in priming effects was virtually zero for correct recall (Experiment 1), and was in the category of small effect sizes (Cohen, 1992) for TOTs in Experiments 1 and 2.  These age differences for TOT priming effects, however, were in opposite directions with young adults showing smaller priming effects than older adults in Experiment 1 and larger effects in Experiment 2.

The lack of reliable age differences in priming effects on TOTs has clear implications within the TD model.  First, it suggests that the increment in connection strength occurring after activation of phonological nodes is unaffected by aging. Second, it is consistent with older adults suffering not only more frequent transmission deficits than young adults, but also more severe transmission deficits.  Age differences in TOTs remained in the related prime condition in Experiment 1. This would be expected if phonological activation increased connection strength, and thus priming transmission, the same amount across age: More transmission deficits would remain in older than young adults because their deficits were more severe and the increased strength still did not allow a critical level of priming transmission. More frequent transmission deficits is consistent with the greater frequency of TOTs with aging and more severe transmission deficits is consistent with older adults reduced access to partial phonological information during a TOT relative to young adults (A. Brown & Nix, 1996; Burke et al., 1991; Heine et al., 1999; Maylor, 1990a).

Priming and Spontaneous Resolution of TOT

The percent of TOTs that are resolved spontaneously through "pop-ups" varies from 17% to 61% in studies of naturally occurring TOTs (Burke et al., 1991; Cohen & Faulkner, 1986; Heine et al., 1999; Reason & Lucas, 1984) and is somewhat lower when TOTs are induced in the laboratory (Burke et al., 1991; Read & Bruce, 1982; see Brown, 1991 for a review).  For older adults, the majority of their naturally occurring TOTs are resolved spontaneously and they report that this is their preferred mode of resolution (Burke et al, 1991; Heine et al., 1999). Spontaneous resolutions are an enigmatic experience and an intriguing problem in terms of mechanism. The present results support the view that spontaneous resolution is triggered when the person inadvertently perceives or produces a word that contains the missing phonology.  This activates inaccessible phonological components and may eliminate transmission deficits.  The person may experience the TOT resolution as spontaneous if he or she is unaware of the phonological similarity between the triggering word and the target word (e.g., Burke et al., 1991; Seifert, Meyer, Davidson, Patalano & Yaniv, 1994; Yaniv & Meyer, 1987).

            Under this explanation, spontaneous resolution of TOTs is an instance of a provocative phenomenon in problem solving, namely, the sudden appearance in consciousness of a solution to a problem that had eluded conscious effort (e.g., Polya, 1957).  Our results support the view that for some types of problems the "subconscious work" (Polya, 1957, p.198) underlying resolution involves a mental operation wherein critical components of the solution become more accessible when relevant stimuli are encountered in the environment. The solution appears spontaneous and unexpected because it was triggered by a repetition priming process that occurs without awareness (cf. Posner, 1973; Yaniv & Meyer, 1987; see Seifert et al., 1994 for empirical and anecdotal evidence for spontaneous solutions in problem solving).

The experimental paradigm used in Experiment 2 differs in an important way from spontaneous resolutions of TOTs that occur in everyday life. In Experiment 2, the question was re-presented, whereas naturally occurring pop-ups are reported as occurring when attention is no longer directed towards resolving the TOT experience (e.g., Burke et al, 1991).  How can target retrieval occur when there is no top-down conceptual process driving it?  An important problem for future research is investigating whether phonological priming effects on TOTs extend to spontaneous retrieval of the target word, in the absence of the question.


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Target Words that Answered General Knowledge Questions in Experiments 1 and 2 and Five Phonologically Related Prime Words for Each.

Note:  Phonemes shared by target and related words are underlined. Related list words were presented in random order with five phonologically unrelated prime words.

Target word      No. Words in Target             Phonologically Related Words

             Grammatical Class


gourmet                       5                      gravity, duration, earthly, calumet, gainsay

velcro                          4                      venerable, pellet, decreed, overthrow, mistletoe

onomatopoeia             3                      onyx, manicure, diplomatic, copious, utopia

bandanna                     3                      bandoleer, banjo, sedentary, retina, marina

Nairobi                        1                      nicety, neuropathic, heroic, chubby, bumblebee

Columbus                    5                      cologne, conniver, alumnus, omnibus, amoebas

tarot                            4                      tapestry, triple, laryngitis, carotene, radio

Lindbergh                    3                      lithoid, pindling, rebound, insert, iceberg

cartographers              5                      cardinal, carnage, paregoric, photography, gophers

zealot                          5                      zephyr, Zionism, velocity, patriot, predicate

mausoleum                  4                      mawkish, insipidity, reciprocity, oleander, petrolatum

anagram                       5                      annex, animosity, feminism, relative, hologram

gerrymander                2                      geriatric, amanuensis, emancipate, pander, philander

ornithology                 5                      orison, carnival, anniversary, anthologist, trilogy

pasteurization                         5                      passenger, enchilada, corroboratory, frustration,


abacus                         3          abrogate, abject, element, caucus, hibiscus

Bering                          4          bellows, merriment, sarcasm, facet, asserting

adumbrate                   2          adversary, calumny, fathomless, celebrate, calibrate

serrated                       2          servant, enunciating, applicator, visited, bonneted

vaudeville                    2          vaulted, generate, invert, medieval, personnel

detonate                      3          detriment, deteriorate, neonate, notarize, illuminate

squander                      1          suffering, schema, pontificate, funding, culture

contraband                  2          conduit, conflagration, extradite, ostracize, disband

chameleon                   3          cacophony, canonical, ameliorate, battalion, medallion

Alcott                          4          alderman, abscissa, relish, declare, ferret

palindrome                  3          palisade, pallid, parenthetic, fascination, hippodrome

ellipsis                         3          illegible, philippic, calypso, emphasis, cirrhosis

intransitive                  3          invasion, inane, quietness, preventive, declarative

locust                          2          lonesome, momentary, whisker, reciprocate, sentimentalist

Galapagos                   4          garage, phylogeny, impetus, fandangos, forgoes

jettison                                    0          palatine, hesitant, prison, medicine, jewel

perjury                                    2          pervade, permanent, injurious, obituary, treasury

marsupials                   4          marquee, insouciance, opium, principals, corals

amnesty                      2          ampersand, universal, banister, pasty, testy

bola                             3          bovine, biotin, hotel, selective, media

ephemeral                    4          Episcopal, ebullient, effeminate, aerobically, general

photosynthesis           4          photogravure, biochemical, immobility, antithesis, paralysis

sextant                         3          secondary, semblance, restrain, pheasant, feint

callous                         2          cabinet, fallow, melanin, prestigious, coffee

stamina                        4          stampede, italicized, fidelity, alumina, prolegomena

Centaur                       2          seldom, renovation, nocturnal, limber, consort

philatelist                    3          physician, equilateral, violate, imperialist, forest

Armstrong                   2          ardent, dermatologist, instruct, foresight, along

origami            4          oratorio, risibility, conglomerate, pastrami, sturdy

marinade                      4          marrow, marathon, imitate, concomitant, serenade

silo                              5          sinus, scripture, minority, parallel, picot

catharsis                      3          cavort, catastrophe, lethargic, parenthesis, homeostasis

papyrus                      3          pagoda, palladium, impiety, amorous, phosphorus

abdicate                       3          abstract, indigent, tradition, truncate, locate

cosmonaut                   4          cosmetic, costume, thermocline, presumably, juggernaut

hemorrhage                  5          hemlock, hemisphere, deaden, mannerism, courage

anemometer                 5          answer, ancestry, orifice, organizer, waiter

caption                                    3          caribou, haphazard, uproarious, onion, infection

Himalayas                   4          hymnology, levitation, citizen, salacious, gallerias

akimbo                        2          acrylic, accumulate, photochemical, placebo, mambo

fluoridation                 5          fluoroscope, generator, affidavit, nutrition, ammunition

plagiarize                     3          placate, playful, tragedy, memorize, cauterize

nepotism                     5          neptunium, quietude, capillary, despotism, optimism

metamorphosis           3          metal, immemorial, demoralize, emphasize, hypothesis

tranquilize                   4          transcend, transport, aquiline, colonize, mechanize

Sirhan                          2          seriate, scepter, peerless, inhale, pylon

reiterate                       3          rejoinder, redouble, habitable, berate, saturate

hemophilia                  4          heater, demolition, reaffiliate, memorabilia, pizza

barnacle                       2          barbarous, carnival, denigrate, ramshackle, semicircle

Brando                        3          brassy, bristle, mandrake, credo, tombolo

planetarium                 4          plantigrade, janitor, dysentery, courteous, septum

labyrinth                     3          labefaction, labdanum, impossible, hyacinth, nineteenth

antibiotics                   3          analects, angelic, symbiosis, forgotten, comics

reincarnation               2          refrain, disinfest, incarcerate, denature, diction

vigilante                       4          vigor, vinegar, lanceted, fatality, sentimentality

ruble                            3          rudiment, roast, dubious, sober, tentacle

misogynist                  3          mikado, ominous, exogenous, expansionist, mirage

hospice                        1          hostler, docile, deport, rapid, topless

affirmation                  3          afferent, inertia, mammalian, nation, improvisation

serendipity                  4          sericin, diencephalon, undiplomatic, gravity, finality

kleptomania                3          clement, frontogenesis, exclamation, felonious, dystopia

valedictory                  2          valiant, gratulate, benediction, salutatory, sloppy

zodiac                          4          zoology, indecent, codeine, attack, maniac

Houdini                       4          hooligan, ideation, redeeming, polygyny, euphony

negotiable                    1          neglect, cargo, machinery, augmentable, rumble

spelunkers                   4          spicule, spirula, bilingual, workers, undertakers

moraine                       2          moralize, murky, surface, terrain, profane

tarantula                      2          tyrannical, telepathy, virtual, enchant, umbrella

actuary                                    1          acrobat, acquiesce, rechoosing, ordinary, downy

etymology                   4          etamine, family, demolish, metallurgy, anthology

spatula                        4          spasmodic, matchbook, canopy, cannula, parabola

indigenous                   2          intimacy, indefinite, redigitize, philosophy, mucilaginous

pediatrician                 5          peanut, eudiometer, ladino, mortician, malnutrition

anachronism                4          analogize, aphasia, garrison, businessman, baptism

omnivore                     2          ombudsman, ominous, renegade, cinema, import

metronome                  2          metric, medicate, detriment, intradermal, rotenone

malevolence                 4          mature, mechanic, eleven, pestilence, incandescence

Comaneci                    2          colon, demanding, immediate, blotchy, mariachi

filament                       4          filibuster, apathetic, miracle, peppermint, parchment

anthrax                        2          analyze, atom, enthrall, rethrow, backpacks

tsunami                       2          sooner, superb, hypnotic, gastronomy, enemy

perpendicular              5          permutation, appendage, addiction, granulate, insular

aspergillum                  5          asterisk, superlative, flagellate, marjoram, eardrum

Struthers                     3          structural, brethren, mothy, hoarders, goblins

gargoyle                       3          garlic, gasoline, harvest, embroil, recoil

trellis                           5          treasure, tremolite, felony, olive, malice

Hancock                      4          handle, happy, bandage, recall, roadblock

hypochondriac            3          hyphenate, reposal, mitochondria, tawdriest, tamarack

kaleidoscope               4          collage, caboose, enlighten, baldachin, periscope

Mitchell                      4          mitigate, midriff, riches, gamble, drivel

procrastination            3          produce, incrassate, matador, emanating, saturation

hieroglyphics              3          hygiene, neurosis, ferocious, aglimmer, specifics

euphemism                  5          eucalyptus, infidelity, confidant, pessimism, mannerism

primogeniture              5          privateer, agenda, agronomy, literature, amateur

rhetorical                     3          reflective, reverse, tolerate, mythical, asthmatical

Orwell                         3          orpine, nervous, percent, inward, hotel

ambergris                     4          americium, amatory, hamburger, reimbursement, pedigrees

demagogue                  2          democratic, demolition, eloquent, irritable, polliwog

insomnia                      4          interim, incapable, ponytail, regalia, echolalia

haiku                           4          highlight, piracy, bacon, mercantile, menu

liaison                          4          linking, radiation, geometry, registry, artisan

jargon                          3          jamboree, farcical, conglomerate, begun, insurrection

ruddy                          0          rupture, submerge, spider, scarcity, posse

numismatics                1          numerical, nuclear, immeasurable, dramatically, classics

ingot                            3          illiterate, anchor, legal, master, frigate

pristine                                    1          proclivity, risky, mistaken, daintier, demean

jurisdiction                  4          juvenile, ministry, indicative, elimination, transaction

soliloquy                     3          safari, silicious, inexplicable, chronology, colloquy

covenant                      4          coverlet, operative, saccharin, remnant, dominant

pylon                          1          purchase, lionize, fearless, fallen, discretion

Cyprus                                    2          sidle, scavenger, bisected, imprint, amorphous

traduce                        2          treacle, brother, indict, profuse, embarrass

milliner                                    4          million, militant, habitation, operate, foreigner

Androcles                    2          ancestor, anadem, hydrazide, manganese, displease

barnacle                       2          barbarous, carnival, denigrate, ramshackle, semicircle

anthrax                        2          analyze, atom, enthrall, rethrow, backpacks

anachronism                4          aphasia, analogize, garrison, businessman, baptism


Author Notes

            Lori E. James (now at Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles);  Deborah M. Burke, Department of Psychology.

            This research was supported by a Haynes Fellowship to Lori James and Grant R37 AG08835 to Deborah Burke.  Portions of this research were reported at the Cognitive Aging Conference, April, 1994 and at the meeting of the Psychonomic Society, November, 1995.  We thank Jennifer Taylor for phonetic transcriptions and Kathryn Bock, Don MacKay, Alan Brown, Tim Perfect and an anonymous reviewer for very helpful comments on a draft of this article.    Correspondence concerning this article should be sent to Deborah Burke, Department of Psychology, 550 Harvard Avenue, Pomona College, Claremont, CA 91711.  E-mail: DBURKE@POMONA.EDU


1. Priming has several different meanings in current cognitive psychology. Priming the theoretical mechanism is subthreshold excitation (MacKay, 1987), similar to spreading activation in some models.  We indicate this meaning by, for example, transmission of priming.  Priming the experimental manipulation occurs when target words are preceded by identical or related words.  We indicate this meaning by priming condition. Priming the empirical effect is a change in availability of target information caused by prior processing of identical or related information.  We indicate this meaning by priming effects.

2. There was no perceptual overlap because the target word was not presented.

3. Note that under additive factors logic, two variables that affect the same stage of processing are expected to interact, leading to the prediction that age and phonological relatedness would interact.  This logic, however, is based on models with sequentially ordered discrete stages and does not necessarily apply to interactive processing models such as NST (e.g., McClelland, 1979).





Table 1

Percentage and Standard Deviation (in Parentheses) of Response Types as a Function of Prior Phonological Priming in Experiment 1

                                                                                    Age Group                 

                                                            Young                                                  Old

                                                Primed             Unprimed                    Primed             Unprimed

Type of Response

Correct Know                        40.9%              36.3%                          47.4%              42.6%

                                                (11.9)              (11.6)                          (17.8)              (15.2)

TOT                                       10.3%              11.7%                          11.3%              13.8%

                                                (6.2)                (6.3)                            (8.6)                (7.4)

Don't Know                           34.9%              37.5%                          21.8%              24.0%

                                                ( 9.5)               (11.2)                          (11.2)              (14.0)

TOT/ Incorrect Responses a   16.9%             18.1%                          20.5%              24.6%

                                                 (8.6)               (8.7)                           (11.8)              (12.6)   

Note:  One hundred and fourteen questions were presented, 57 primed and 57 unprimed (see text for explanation).  Percentages do not sum to 100% because incorrect Knows and incorrect TOTs are excluded.

a  TOTs as a percentage of the sum of incorrect responses: Don't Know, TOT, Incorrect TOT, Incorrect Know
Table 2

Percentage and Standard Deviation  (in parentheses) of Response Types for Initial Presentation of Questions in Experiment 2

                                                                        Age Group

                                                               Young                                   Old

Type of Response

            Correct Know                           36.0%                                     40.4%

                                                             (12.0)                                     (12.8)

Correct TOT                              7.9%                                      11.4%

                                                             (4.8)                                         (7.5)

            Don't Know                           38.8%                                       24.0%

                                                            (11.6)                                      (11.2)

TOT/ Incorrect Responses a   12.4%                                     19.1%

                                                  (7.3)                                      (11.0)


Note: Percentages do not sum to 100% because incorrect Knows and incorrect TOTs are excluded.

a  TOTs as a percentage of the sum of incorrect responses: Don't Know, TOT, Incorrect TOT, Incorrect Know
Table 3

Percentage Correct Retrieval of Target Words and Priming Effect (PE) Following TOT or Don't Know Responses as a Function of Phonological Priming Condition in Experiment 2


                                                                        Age Group

                                                       Young                                                       Old

                                    Primed     Unprimed     PE                   Primed     Unprimed     PE

Initial Response

TOT                            69.7%       47.5%        22.2                 73.6%        57.8%      15.8

Don't Know                   2.9%        2.1%            .8                  7.3%          8.4%         -1.1


Figure Captions

Figure 1.  Semantic and phonological nodes representing the prime word pellet and the target word velcro.  Many nodes necessary for producing these words have been omitted to simplify the figure.  Note that the representations for the two words overlap only at the phonological level. Phonological connections strengthened by saying pellet have been darkened.

Figure 2.  Example of presentation of general knowledge questions and phonological processing task in Experiment 1.  A related list of words are displayed with the phonological components overlapping the target word underlined.  They were not underlined in the experiment.