Letologics' quirks: what to do when the word "spins on the tongue"


Photo: Laula Co / Unsplash

“Wait, I swear I know that! - you say. - Give me a second, the world is spinning on the tongue ... It starts with K? Or C? " You feel that you are about to remember, but for some reason, it does not succeed. This phenomenon of something spinning on the tongue is also known as letologica. Why is this happening?



Letology is unpleasant, but useful

Research has shown that this phenomenon is universal, and most languages ​​use the same metaphor to describe this feeling. 90% of the world's inhabitants, speaking different languages, admit that they encounter this phenomenon when it seems to them that at this particular moment they cannot remember something. The phenomenon is universal in terms of age: both young and old people suffer from letology. But bilingual people, as it turned out, most often encounter it when they speak a less dominant language.


According to psychologists Bennett Schwartz and Janet Metcalfe, letology can be thought of as a metacognitive process that signals that a person has difficulty remembering - as opposed to no recall at all. Sometimes it's obvious that you just don't know the answer to a question. But when you feel that something is spinning on the tongue, the mind says: we must know this.


Thus, letology can play an adaptive role in memory formation and learning. If you are constantly trying to remember a certain word, this is a sign that the information is not being stored properly in your memory. Some researchers believe that these difficulties may be associated with implicit learning, when we learn information by chance, without realizing that we have perceived it. So what should you do when faced with letology?


How to manage the state when the memory "spins on the tongue"

Many people try to combat this, thinking that then they will better remember information for the future. However, it may not be worth doing this.


Cognitive psychologist Karin Humphries of McMaster University in Canada is studying the phenomenon of "spinning on the tongue." She conducted a study in which volunteers were shown questions and asked to note whether they knew the answer, did not know, or it was on the tongue. People had ten or thirty seconds to find a word before being shown the answer. The experiment was carried out again two days later.


The results were surprising: “The longer they stayed on the tongue on the first day, the more often they said“ on the tongue ”with that word on the second day, says Humphrey. The extra time people spend trying to fetch a word from their memory is what researchers call flawed training. Instead of remembering the correct word, people focus on the mistake. "


False training is a concept that many sports coaches are familiar with: when players train incorrectly, they actually learn to make mistakes. Music teachers sometimes pay attention to students who claim to practice hard, but paradoxically, it only gets worse over time. This is because athletes or musicians keep repeating the same mistakes instead of using targeted practice. “It seems that simply identifying the correct answer is not enough to overcome erroneous behavior. It is critical to deliberately assess why the previous answer was wrong and get immediate feedback, ”Humphrey writes.



Her research and recommendations are essential for learning and education. The next time you experience the "spinning on the tongue" state, do not try to retrieve information from memory. Instead, just find the right answer. Then repeat it several times or write it down to make it easier to remember. This will help you learn the correct word and not waste time and energy on the wrong training.


And if you experience letology because of information that doesn't really matter to you, just leave it as it is. Our memory is far from perfect, but most of its shortcomings are associated with the selection of the most useful information.

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