Age-related increases in tip-of-the-tongue are distinct from decreases in remembering names: A functional mri study

Willem Huijbers, Kathryn V. Papp, Molly LaPoint, Sarah E. Wigman, Alex Dagley, Trey Hedden, Dorene M. Rentz, Aaron P. Schultz, Reisa A. Sperling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Tip-of-the-tongue (TOT) experiences increase with age and frequently heighten concerns about memory decline. We studied 73 clinically normal older adults participating in the Harvard Aging Brain Study. They completed a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) task that required remembering names associated with pictures of famous faces. Older age was associated with more self-reported TOT experiences and a decrease in the percentage of remembered names. However, the percentage of TOT experiences and the percentage of remembered names were not directly correlated. We mapped fMRI activity for recollection of famous names and TOT and examined activity in the hippocampal formation, retrosplenial cortex, and lateral prefrontal cortex. The hippocampal formation was similarly activated in recollection and TOT experiences. In contrast, the retrosplenial cortex was most active for recollection and lateral prefrontal cortex was most active for TOT experiences. Together, the results confirm that age-related increases in TOT experiences are not only solely the consequence of age-related decline in recollection, but also likely reflect functional alterations in the brain networks that support retrieval monitoring and cognitive control. These findings provide behavioral and neuroimaging evidence that age-related TOT experiences and memory failure are partially independent processes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4339-4349
Number of pages11
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number9
StatePublished - 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Aging
  • FMRI
  • Harvard aging brain study
  • Memory
  • Tip-of-the-tongue


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