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MEMORY AND THE FEELING-OF-KNOWING EXPERIENCE1
J. T. HART1 Stanford University To evaluate the accuracy of feeling-of-knowing experiences 2 investigations are reported. Both experiments (Ns of 22 and 16, respectively) show the phenomenon to be a relatively accurate indicator of memory storage, as measured by the ability of Ss to predict recognition failures and successes for items they cannot recall. The results are discussed in terms of the utility of a memory-monitoring process for the efficient functioning of a fallible storage and retrieval system.
Even when unable to answer difficult questions, people are not completely blank. Usually they have definite feelings about whether they know or do not know the absent answers. Feelings of knowing can sometimes be very strong; a person will feel that an elusive memory is close, very close— right on the tip of his tongue. Tipof-the-tongue experiences and feelings of knowing of lesser intensities are very common, occurring every day with many types of memory materials: names, dates, telephone numbers, addresses, faces, places, etc. It is not surprising then that the tip-of-the-tongue experience has been recognized by psychologists for many years; nor is it surprising that a few investigations of the experience have been conducted. William James (1950), who seems to have had something wise to say about everything psychological, discussed the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon at length (pp. 251-264). Woodworth and Schlosberg (1954) have summarized the early investigaI This investigation was completed while the author was on a United States Public Health Service predoctoral research fellowship. The investigation constitutes a portion of the author's PhD dissertation at Stanford University. I 1 am indebted to Albert Hastorf, Leonard Horowitz, and Karl Pribram for valuable discussions about the planning and results of this research.
tions of the phenomenon (pp. 719721). These early investigations were, however, limited in several respects: (a) Only the intense tip-of-the-tongue experiences were studied, not the more general and ubiquitous feeling-of-knowing experiences; (b) the investigations were unsystematic and nonquantitative, consisting mainly of collections of instances; and most importantly (c) the investigations did not answer, nor even ask, what is perhaps the most important question about tip-of-the-tongue or feeling-ofknowing experiences—are they accurate? Instead, the early investigators took the phenomenon as given and tried to study how subjects retrieved or searched for information they did not have but felt they knew. This retrieval problem is of considerable interest, but it departs from the study of the feeling-of-knowing (FOK) phenomenon itself. Indeed, asking how FOK memories are retrieved presupposes that the FOK experience is an accurate indicator of what is in memory. This presupposition is tested in the following investigations.
Method To answer the question about the accuracy of FOK experiences it ie necessary to find a research paradigm within which the experiences can be produced and their accuracy evaluated. Use was made of one
"I mentioned before that you are not expected to answer every question correctly. 'Even though I don't remember the answer now.' check Column 1. Three sample questions are given below in multiple-choice form: Which planet is the largest in our solar system? a. The basic criterion for inclusion was that a question have a single correct answer. 6 d. Accuracy can be easily assessed by comparing the proportion correct on feeling-of-knowing (FK) items with the proportion correct on feeling-of-notknowing (FK) items for each subject. then instructions. On that form you will need to circle the correct answer among four possible answerB. Experiment I differs from Experiment II only in the number of questions included in the tests (60 and 75. including the following. Pluto b. These questions do not constitute an intelligence test. Although the questions are not easy. Indeed the questions were chosen so that everyone would be unable to answer some questions the first time through. An attempt was made to range widely over the humanities and sciences. All the questions are questions of fact. respectively). If your answer is 'no.MEMOBY AND THE FEELING-OF-KNOWING 209 of the bestrestablished facts of verbal learning—recognition exceeds recall. that will indicate you have a feeling that you know the correct answer even though you cannot remember it at the moment. Also. the subjects should do better on those recognition-test items which they feel they know but cannot recall than on those items which they feel they do not know. were read to them prior to the test of recall: "The main thing you will be doing in this experiment is answering questions. 7 Who wrote "The Tempest"? a. Jonson d. Shakespeare Procedure The experiment was administered to all subjects in a single group. You will be given a chance later to go over the questions again. The criterion question to ask yourself before checking the Yes column is. All 22 were Stanford undergraduates who had signed up for the experiment to fulfill a course requirement in general psychology. they were seated around a large table. Do not make wild guesses but do write down any answer you believe might be correct. Moliere b. do I know the answer to the extent that I could pick the correct answer from among several wrong answers?' If your answer to this criterion question is 'yes. Strindberg c. The reasons for these differences will be given after the method and results of the first experiment are presented. If the FOK experience is an accurate indicator of memory storage. respectively) and the kind of FOK judgments obtained from the subjects (dichotomous and graded. From this fact the following recall-judgment-recognition (RJR) paradigm can be applied aa a way of studying the accuracy of FOK experiences: (a) give the subjects a test of recall and. If you check the No column. that will indicate that you feel completely blank about what the correct answer might be. make a check in one of the columns adjacent to the blank answer space. This was done because we are interested in your feelings about the questions for which you are unable to give a correct answer. (b) then give the subjects a multiple-choice recognition test covering the same items that appeared in the test of recall.' If you cannot supply an answer to a question. choosing questions that would be meaningful but not easy for the average undergraduate. "After you have finished all 50 questions. they are about topics that may have been familiar to you at one time. you will be given a second form of the test. do not at this time return to questions that you have already passed over. People can almost always recognize more answers than they can produce. instruct them to make a judgment about whether or not they feel they know the correct answer well enough to recognize it among several wrong alternatives. Materials The questions used in the recall and recognition tests were 50 general-information questions. When the subjects arrived. If you check the Yes column. Venus c. 8 b. Earth d. "Next to the answer box for every question there are two columns labeled 'Feeling of Knowing: Yes/No. You will be given about 10 seconds to answer a question after I read it aloud. Jupiter How many sides are there in a hexagon? a. 9 c. for those items they cannot answer." After these instructions were read to the .' check Column 2. and you are not expected to answer all of the questions correctly. Both of the experiments reported in this paper employed the same RJR two-step procedure.
many subjects tend to correctly recognize answers they did not feel they knew while taking the test of recall. and then the subjects were given the multiple-choice form of the S questions.001.6 23. one tailed). FK hits should be compared to FK misses. suggesting that the FK indicator is an accurate predictor of what is in storage. one tailed).25—the guessing .4 6. The blanks are subdivided into those for which a FK or Yes judgment was made and those for which a FK or No judgment was made.9 Recognition Correct Incorrect Note. most of the subjects should have FK miss proportions of about . The meaning of a ^hit" or a "miss" differs for FK and FK items.2 SD Recall Correct Incorrect Errors Blanks FK FK 18. The questions wrong on the test of recall are categorized into errors and blanks. Before looking at the data to assess the accuracy of FOK judgments. one tailed).2 8. the experimenter proceeded to read the questions at a rate of approximately 10-15 seconds per question. since these were the questions that received a FOK judgment by the subjects. For the purposes of the experiment interest centers on the questions left blank. as expected. For FK blanks a hit would be the converse of a FK hit. HART subjects. A sign test (Siegel.210 J. even if they had to guess.9 4.2 7. If the f £ indicator were perfectly accurate. On the basis of these results.0 39. This comparison clearly indicates that more recall items judged FK are subsequently gotten correct on the recognition test than FK items. On the recognition test each O subject worked independently at his own speed. N = 22. a FK miss would be an incorrect multiple-choice response.001. the answer sheets were collected. Ambiguity can be avoided if it is remembered that the terms "hit" and "miss" apply to the accuracy of the FOK judgments. Table 2 presents the data for FK and FK hits and misses. since the subject who marks a blank FK (No) is saying that he does not feel he knows the correct answer and does not expect to recognize it on the multiple-choice test.05.—Fifty-item tests.2 10.3 4. A FK hit can be straightforwardly defined as a correct multiple-choice response on a question TABLE 1 RECALL AND RECOGNITION SCOBES EXPERIMENT I Tests u 26.8 10.4 4. It can be seen immediately that the FK results are highly significant (p < . Results Table 1 shows. a FK hit would be scored for a wrong multiple-choice response and a FK miss for a correct multiple-choice response. It would be interesting to know if the indicator is equally accurate for both FK and FK judgments.2 2. Consequently. previously left blank and judged FK (Yes). the FK portion of Table 2 shows that subjects are not so accurate in predicting what is not in storage (p > .4 5. However. For the overall test of the accuracy of the FOK judgments.0 3. 1956) shows the results to be statistically significant (p < . the FOK experience appears to be at least a minimally accurate indicator of memory storage. not to the correctness of the multiple-choice responses. T. When the 50 questions were completed. going over all 50 questions again. a few definitions are necessary. that memory scores are higher for recognition than recall. The subjects were instructed to answer every question on the recognition test.2 7.
94 .14 .89 .23 .33 .36 .38 Note. Red Sea d.38 . Jonson and Shakespeare.60 .MEMORY AND THE FEELING-OF-KNOWING 211 TABLE 2 FK AND FK PROPORTIONS DIVIDED INTO HITS AND MISSES EXPERIMENT I FK Ss FK Misses Bits Misses 5s FK Hits Misses Hits FK Misses Hits .40 . Hull c.00 1. Only this time they were asked not merely to check in either the Yes Method To correct for this possible artifact.88 .12 .33 .12 .77 .18 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 .54 .33 or .50 . a person ignorant of the correct answer but possessing some related knowledge of the field covered by the question might be able to narrow the alternatives down to three or two. Wundt Procedure The 16 subjects in Experiment II were drawn from the same subject pool as those in Experiment I.25 . thereby raising his guessing probability to .00 .12 .90 .60 . This was done to see if the FOK experience operates as a simple Yes-No indicator of memory storage or if it operates at various graded strengths from definitely Yes down to definitely No.76. For example.50 .73 .67 .38 .82 .20 . An effort was made to make the alternatives appear equally likely to the uninformed subject.27 .06 .50 .33 .00 .64 .18 . The departure of the FK miss proportion from the expected . Ebbinghaus b.67 .62 . Black Sea Who developed the nonsense syllable in studies of learning? a.71 .33 . They received the Bame general instructions and listed their answers to the recall and recognition tests on similar answer forms. plus the 25 harder questions. it was decided to see if subjects oould make graded .67 .64 .25 led the investigator to look for possible artifacts. that is.88 .00 . Dufy What sea does West Pakistan border? a. .57.29 .—Ms are: FK Hits.. Additionally.33 .53 . Monet b.25 .80 .75 . A few sample questions are listed below: Who painted "Afternoon at La Grand Jatte"? a.67 . Caspian Sea c. many subjects might be able to narrow their guesses to the English writers.25 .78 .50 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 1.50.86 .24.67 .43 .40 . Materials The subjects in Experiment II were given 75 general information questions—the 50 received by the Experiment I subjects.10 .36 .30 .67 .57 . EXPERIMENT II rather than dichotomous judgments about their feelings of knowing.80 . Many of the multiple-choice alternatives did not seem equally likely. in the sample question about the author of The Tempest.12 .33 . Cezanne d. .88 .75 . Misses.62 .50 .80 .70 .47 . 25 additional questions were carefully constructed to be used in a replication experiment. Seurat c. Aside from these two changes.50 . the materials and procedure for Experiment II were identical to those of Experiment I.60 .82 . A perusal of the multiplechoice questions suggested one possibility immediately. probability for four equally likely multiple-choice answers. FK Hits.20 .88 .43.22 . Pavlov d.50 .20 . Arabian Sea b. Mis8es. .62 .75 .11 .50 .46 .50 .
212 J.61 .70 .—MB are: FK Hits.32 . The rating was made with the following scale (the scale was drawn on a blackboard in front of the group): Feeling-of-Knowing Rating umns.33 . The data were first analyzed by treating the FOK ratings about unanswered items as dichotomous Yes or No judgments to corVery Very respond to those in Experiment I.38. T.53 .3 4.4 25.29 .62 .72 .4 7.40 .62 .71 .63 . A 6 in the Yes column means that you feel very strongly that you know the correct answer even though you can't remember it at the moment.1 51.33 .81 .44 . .45 .31 . Misses.69 . FK Hits.44 . 2. 5.4 5. or 6 in the Yes column adjacent to the unanswered question.66.37 . If you cannot answer the question and feel that you do not know the correct answer.8 40. HABT TABLE 3 RECALL AND RECOGNITION SCORES EXPERIMENT II Tests it SD Recall Correct Incorrect Errors Blanks FK FK 29.39 .55 . "If you cannot answer the question but feel that you know it.37 .9 8.68 .5 15.30 .41 .33 .34 Note.70 . or No columns next to the unanswered questions but to enter a rating of their feeling of knowing or not knowing.71 .17 .38 .59 . For TABLE 4 FK AND FK PROPORTIONS DIVIDED INTO HITS AND MISSES EXPERIMENT II FK 5s Hita Misses Hits FK Hisses •*> FK Hits Misses Hits FK Misses 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 .63 . .62 .7 5.28 .67 .7 45.29 .30 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 .53 .confirms the previous findings. N = 16.83 . On every question that you cannot answer you should make a rating in either the Yes column or the No column.44 . Results Table 3 contains a breakdown of the recall and recognition responses for Yes No the 75-item tests.34.83 .2 4.68 .60 . or 1 in the No column. This is the way the ratings should be assigned [illustrate on the blackboard].67 .4 Recognition Correct Incorrect Note.45 . . . strongly strongly Table 4 shows that the overall test Special instructions were added to explain of the accuracy of the FOK judgments the use of this scale: "You will notice that next to the answer (FK hits compared to FK misses) box for every question there are two col.69 .19 . Misses. If you place a 1 in the No column.32 .47 .38 .5 7.9 6. The intermediate ratings should be used for less definite feelings of knowing or not knowing. . place a 4.17 .67 .56 .38 .25 .56 .56 . that means you feel very strongly that you don't know the correct answer.55 .—Seventy-five-item tests.75 .31 ." The criterion question that subjects were to ask themselves before making a rating was explained in the same words used with the subjects in the first experiment.5 2. place a 3.62.47 .66 .6 23.
Only the proportions under Rating 1 . while the summed proportions appear to be graded into four steps from 6 (definitely Yes) to 5 and 4 (maybe Yes) to 3 and 2 (maybe No) to 1 (definitely No). the FK indicator is shown to be an equally accurate indicator of what is not in storage. the procedure of taking the mean of the proportions weights each cell equally. The second set of proportions probably come closer to the true values that would have been obtained if many more items had been included. 2.30). however.48 .MEMOBY AND THE FEELING-OF-KNOWING 213 every subject.54 .—Two-tailed z tests show that all the proportions are significantly different from the chance level (.53 . number of items in that category to obtain a proportion. This significant result in Experiment H a n d the absence of a significant FK result in Experiment I can be attributed to the inclusion of harder questions in Experiment II. Yet even though the FK result is significant.61 . Two proportions are given under each rating category. the second by summing the items correct in each category across subjects and then dividing by the total TABLE 5 PROPORTIONS FOB ITEMS CORRECT RATINGS Method Ratings SUB- DIVIDED AcCOBDING T FOK O Means of summed proportions .75 Note. say 200-300 instead of 75.001. 3. Perhaps_ this departure from the expected FK proportion can be explicated by looking at the data in terms of the ratings rather than the Yes-No dichotomization. consequently an entry for one subject based upon only one item is weighted just as heavily as an entry for another subject based upon 10 items. the first was obtained by summing across the proportions for subjects and then calculating the mean of the summed proportions. 2. Descriptively.60 . p < . Indeed. for which p > . the FK indicator is an accurate indicator of memory storage. and 6 to FK hits.57 . and to the inclusion of multiple choices on the recognition test that would seem equally likely to an uninformed subject. except the values under Rating 1 (. since the data are too variable and the cell entries are too small. In the terminology used earlier. The breakdown of the FK and FK items into hits and misses shows in Table 4 that. some of the cell entries for individual subjects were very small. The mean proportions are likely to be unstable because. however. for the middle categories. questions that would give the subjects more definite feelings of not knowing when they were unable to come up with an answer. more FK items are subsequently recognized than FK items (p < .5. it is clear that the obtained proportion of FK misses departs from what would be expected if the subjects were simply guessing. and 3 would correspond to FK misses and 4. as before. 1.30 . Table 5 shows a breakdown of the data across ratings for the proportion of items correct in each rating category from 1 to 6.005. the mean proportions seem to be graded into three steps from 6 (definitely Yes) to 5.25). (maybe) to 1 (definitely No). in Table 4 there are no reversals from the predicted direction of hits over misses. 4.78 Proportions of summed scores . This time.05.53 . Neither of these descriptive trends are statistically validated.50 .30 . one tailed).
it is pertinent to look at the will not continue to expend useless question again and ask: "Why is it effort and time at retrieval. difference .05. then they ent. It can serve as an indithe claim was made that the most cator of what is stored in memory important and interesting question to when the retrieval of a memory item ask about FOK experiences is: "Are is temporarily unsuccessful or interthey accurate?" Now that the results rupted. would be retrieved. important that FOK experiences be input can be sought that will put the accurate? And.tion.30-78. in the introduction. Earlier.the system will avoid redundantly jective experience? Does the experience inputting information that is already have any usefulness in daily life? Beginning answers can be made to But to be useful a FOK indicator these questions by recognizing that must be accurate. recognition. for example McGeoch and Irion fallibility that makes FOK experiences (1952) and Hovland (1951). If the indicator signals that an have given a "yes" answer to this item is not in storage. and savings) shows swer. exceeds recall. a certainly indicate that FOK judgments system in which what is retrieved does can be used as relatively accurate not completely mirror what is stored. . ful function. Consequently. Or. relationship between storage and recall when they feel definitely that they do in the human memory system. sysand FK judgments is basic to an tems with enormously flexible but fallible storage and retrieval capa1 Any of the standard sources on human bilities. A memory yields t = 3. indicators of what is and is not in the FOK experience can serve a usememory. these descriptive trends Clearly. The determination human beings function cognitively of the accuracy of FOK-derived FK as information-processing systems.failure to retrieve an item would mean ences could occur with a p > . T. If human beings were cussions. data. and references about comof computers with infallible memories so parisons between different measures of retention and about the phenomenon that they could always immediately reminiscence. if the indicator Is the FOK phenomenon anything signals that an item is in storage. human beings do are mentioned only as possibilities to not operate this way—retention often look for in later research. however. then more than a curious and common sub.214 J. reconstrucnitely that they do not know an an. that it was not in storage. All the other differ.ures of retention (recall. instead. The know the answer.retrieve memory contents. so what?" item into storage.01 for the mean item. A t test for correlated scores would not need FOKs. their scores are three phenomenon of reminiscence is another example showing that what is imtimes the chance level.8 The results of Experiments I and II For a fallible memory system. mediately retrieved may not be an adequate indicator of what is reDISCUSSION tained. if in storage. contain disimportant. then the system question.38. p < . HABT and Rating 6 are significantly differ. if they are. they score on those items at that there is not a simple one-to-one about the chance recognition level. The repeatedly observed What is clear from the rating-scale discrepancy between common measdata is that when subjects feel defi. It is this fact of memory learning.
In S. REFERENCES HOVLAND. the variables that affect monitoring accuracy—these are unknowns. and he would not persist in efforts to remember information that. Subjects can. For example. make accurate judgments about which items they will be able to remember and which they will not. after subjects have made FOK judgments about items they cannot retrieve.MEMOHY AND THE FEELINQ-OF-KNOWING 216 evaluation of the utility of FOK experiences because an inaccurate FOK indicator would add nothing to the efficiency of the fallible human memory system. the operation of an inaccurate indicator would increase the system's fallibility and produce extremes of inefficiency. within the RJR paradigm described. it is clear that other paradigms might be applied to operationally bracket this phenomenon. Stevens (Ed. Although the memory-monitoring process has been introduced and defined with reference to the EJR paradigm. I. Hereafter. would eventually be remembered. by referring to their FOK experiences.). memory-monitoring accuracy is measured by counting how well subjects predict which answers they will and ill not recognize after they have been bl to answer the questions by recall. The phrase memory monitoring was chosen to describe the process intervening between recall and recognition because it seems descriptively meaningful yet theoretically neutral. How the monitor works. Of course. it is clear that questions about FOK experiences are not silly questions. with perhaps only a few more tries or a rest or a new kind of retrieval search. if cues are introduced one at a time about sought-after items. but even so the FOK phenomenon seems powerful and reliable. The important finding of the investigations reported is that FOK experiences are relatively accurate indicators of memory storage. Indeed. S. Human learning and retention. Operationally. Handbook of . contributing significantly to the efficiency of the human information-processing system. The memory-monitoring process appears to be an important process. fewer cues should be required for the identification of FK than FK items. When subjects make FK and FK judgments. monitor or check what they do remember to arrive at a decision about what they might. they. the phrase "memory-monitoring process" will be used to refer to the intervening process producing FK and FK judgments. C. in some way. Memory monitoring refers only to the intervening process. With an inaccurate indicator a person would persist in trying to remember what he had never learned or had forgotten. their predictions are not perfect and there are individual differences among subjects in accuracy. But even with so many unknowns. it might be better to introduce a more general term to describe the overall process whereby FK and FK judgments are made about unretrieved memory items. the process which leads to FK and FK responses whose accuracy can be objectively evaluated within the EJR paradigm. they could be asked to continue efforts to recall the unretrieved items—more FK items should eventually be retrieved than FK items. remember. or. Since the FOK experience or phenomenon refers essentially to the FK or Yes state of the indicator. the neural mechanisms necessary to accomplish memory monitoring.
S. Green. A. 613-687. 1952. chology of human learning. H. 1964. T. 1951. Ex- Hew York: Dover.) New York: Longmans. SIEGEL. A. The principles New York: of psychology.. 1956. WOODWORTH. 1965) . New York: McGraw-Hill. MCGEOCH. S. I. ed.216 J. (Received March 23. & SCHLOSBERG. 1950.) New York: Holt. Pp.. HABT experimental psychology. The psy- perimental psychology. J. JAMES. R. Wiley. (Rev.& IRION. (2nd ed. W. Nonparametric statistics.
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