Thursday, May 20, 2010

Tip of the Tongue & Feeling of Knowing

When we talk about what people know, it's often useful to also examine what people think they know.  It's like that great old quote about public opinion, spoken by Lucifer in an awful Victorian play entitled Prince Lucifer.  The bad old guy says:

Public opinion, is no more than this,
what people think other people think.

Truer words were never spoken, that is if you're into the social projection literature, pluralistic ignorance, false consensus, and all the rest.

But two areas often studied outside of public opinion and mass comm are feeling of knowing and the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon, but they're interesting nonetheless.  As this study abstract nicely puts it, tip-of-the-tongue is defined as "a recall failure accompanied by a strong feeling of imminent retrieval" while feeling of knowing is "a recall failure accompanied by a feeling of future ability to recognize the item."  In other words, TOT means you know you know it, but you just can't spit it out.  FOK is also a failure to recall something but you're sure you'll be able to do it later.

What's this to do with political knowledge, or media, or anything?

From a methodological standpoint, when we measure political knowledge of any kind (current events, textbook civics questions, etc.) we often get a lot of "don't know" responses which, I suspect, have some aspects of FOK and TOT.  Often surveys will probe further, trying to help someone retrieve the info from their head and get it out verbally for our survey.  The research into these phenomena, then, becomes vital in how we understand how people answer survey questions (which is a neat field all in itself).

The study I pointed to above gets into brain scans in different situations.  We rarely have the opportunity in political communication to that detailed, but it'd be fun to see what parts of the brain fire when asking political knowledge questions versus other kinds of questions.

I may get more into this later.

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