Saturday, April 03, 2010

Tip of the Tongue learning is bad!

This article came as a surprise - my default assumption was that "working through" this tip of the tongue state until I came upon the answer. The research demonstrates that the time you spend agonising and searching for the answer causes the same thing to happen next time - you're "practicing" the stuck condition.

So the best thing to do is to have a short timeout (10 seconds was better for future remembering than 30 seconds, in the study) whereupon you give up and look up the answer, or make a note to check later or something. Anything but keep struggling until you remember the answer the hard way, since it only facilitates the same wrong mental paths in future.

Two more suggestions...
1. When you struggle with a tip of the tongue thought, whichever way you manage to resolve it, make an entry for it in an SRS program like Mnemosyne or Anki.
For example, the researcher who carried out the study said that she often struggled to remember the word "obsidian". So when you notice that you tend to struggle with this word, you add a flashcard to your SRS with "glassy lava rock" on the front, and "obsidian" on the back. Then when reviewing the cards, if you can't remember the answer after 5-10 seconds, you give it a fail mark. If you remembered it quickly, give it a passing mark. The SRS program will take care of the rest, managing the transition of the properly-learned knowledge into your long-term memory.

2. When you see a friend (or a child!) struggle for a word and you can guess what word it is, put them out of their misery ASAP, and if they say "ahh, I would have got it, why did you tell me?" then explain why!

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