Presque vu (tip of the tongue)

Connor Israelson


Trying to recall a word that is "on the tip of your tongue" is a common and frustrating experience for everyone. Because it's so commonplace, I wanted to know more about this phenomenon. Perhaps if we better understand what it is and why it happens we can avoid it in the future.

What is presque vu?

This phenomenon is better known as having a word stuck "on the tip of your tongue". It occurs when the limbic system (more specifically, the anterior cingulate cortex) , the region of the brain responsible for memory storage and recall, partially recalls a word of phrase but fails to fully recall it. One theory suggests that this occurs when the strength of the memory is enough to start the recall process but not strong enough to finish it. Another theory suggests that the memory of the word simply does not exist, but the recall process was started anyway. When this occurs people are often able to recall the first letter of the word, nor it is stressed, or words that are similar in meaning or sound.
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The History

Presque vu was originally described by psychologist William James, but did not receive its current name until later in time. Sit under Freud suggested that unconscious thoughts would cause this, but he never preformed experiments to prove this. The first research on this was done by Roger Brown and David McNeill in 1966. In this experiment they told the subjects an unusual word and its definition and asked the subjects to say a word they associated it with. They were later asked to recall the unusual word that was defined before and were asked if they experienced this phenomenon. This proved that this phenomenon was a legitimate, reoccurring experience that could be artificially triggered.

Other interesting facts

  • This affects everyone, regardless of gender, age, education, what language they speak, or any other factors that have been researched.
  • Every person that experiences this has a feeling of agitation or anger while this is occurring, and feel a sense of relief after the phenomenon has passed.