Author Archives: Courtney Kay Anderson

Within the Context

My son, Logan is now three years old and has been diagnosed with Childhood apraxia of speech (CAS). This is a motor speech disorder in which children have problems saying sounds, syllables, and words. These issues are due to his brain having problems planning to move body parts such as his lips, jaw, and tongue. Children with CAS know what they want to say but their brain has difficulty coordinating the muscle movements necessary to say those words (Childhood Apraxia of Speech, 2015). The difficulties of dealing with apraxia have become a huge part of my every day life. In order to understand what my son is trying to communicate, I rely heavily on the context of the words he uses.

Phonemes and morphemes are components of words. Phonemes are the shortest piece of speech, which if changed, change a words meaning. Morphemes are the smallest part of language that has meaning or grammatical function. Phonemes are parts of sentences that can be heard even if their sound is covered up by noise. Sometimes Logan completely doesn’t pronounce letters in the middle of a word and I am able to identify what he’s saying due to the context of the word in a sentence. Since he’s an energetic boy, he might make noise in the middle of trying to communicate words and I’m still able to understand what he’s saying. This “filling in” of the missing phoneme is called the phonemic restoration effect, which is an example of top-down processing (Goldstein, 298).

Perceiving words can be a difficult task since not everyone says words in the same way. Different accents impact how easily words can be perceived. Logan typically mispronounces words to the point where he may as well be speaking a foreign language to me. Speed can also influence how well words are perceived. Sometimes Logan tries to talk so fast that the words seem to blend together, so I have a difficult time understanding him. Also, taking a relaxed approach to speaking can change the pronunciation of words. I try to be mindful of doing this myself, because I want Logan to learn to speak clearly. I often get lazy saying words, especially when they end in /t/. For example, in the word “out,” I might pronounce an abrupt “ou” without emphasizing the /t/ (Goldstein).

According to Irwin Pollack and J.M. Picket (1964), the way people speak conversationally is unclear about half of the time when words are taken out of context and said alone. Most of the time when Logan speaks to me, I rely on the context of the sentence. When he uses single words, I have a difficult time understanding what he’s trying to communicate with me without the word in the context of a sentence. This may not seem like a big deal, but if Logan says “ou” (without the /t/), I’m not sure if he’s hurt or is referring to going somewhere. However, if he puts the word into context, such as by saying, “go ou,” I would have a much clearer understanding of what he’s trying to communicate. This shows that a word’s meaning can depend on other words around it. When words are taken out of context from a sentence, people generally have a more difficult time identifying that word, even when they are hearing their own voice (Goldstein, 297-298).

Context plays a powerful role in understanding words. It affects the meaning of words and our ability to hear and understand words or parts of them. I may have a more difficult time understanding Logan due to an apraxia of speech, but I’m not alone when it comes to perception. Overall, everyone can have difficulties perceiving words that are complicated by accents, understanding those speaking at different speeds, and understanding others who take a more relaxed approach to pronouncing words.


Childhood Apraxia of Speech. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. 2015.

Cognitive Psychology Connecting Mind, Research, and Everyday Experience. Goldstein, E. Bruce. p. 297-298. 2011. Third Edition. Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

What Is That Word?

There are many times when I frequently think, “I know this word, it’s on the tip of my tongue.” It could be a well known word or familiar name(Thompson, 2011.) Maybe I’ll just remember semantic information, such as the first letter of the word or a syllable(Schwartz, Metcalfe.) Sometimes I’ll ask my husband to help me remember, as I try to describe the words meaning to him. Has this ever happened to you? It’s called the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon or TOT. It is a failure to remember a word that someone is confident they already know, but they can’t access this information in their memory. The familiar word may not be remembered, but sometimes similar words and meaning can be recalled(Brown, McNeill. 1966.) Half of the time this phenomena occurs, a person will remember after about a minute. Although, sometimes it takes days to recall.(Thompson, 2011.) There are numerous ways to improve memory retrieval.

Tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon occurs because something blocks, interferes, or prevents the retrieval of the known word. The word sufficiently activates the TOT, but cannot activate the recall(Schwartz, Metcalfe.) A person is having a breakdown in the intermediate stage of lexical retrieval(Thompson, 2011.)

Recalling information stored in our memory is called retrieval. Encoding has been found to influence retrieval. Encoding is the process of receiving information and transferring it into long-term memory. Research has found retrieval can be improved by placing words into complex sentences, forming visual images based on words, forming links between words or personal characteristics, generating information, organizing information, and testing your knowledge.(Goldstein, 2011.)

Retrieval cues help a person remember information stored in memory. They can come in various forms such as, verbal cues or going back to a specific location(Goldstein, 2011.) A study by Koriat and Lieblich determined what factors influenced the amount of TOTs participants received. They identified that the question asked to participants increased the number of TOTs a participant experienced when they were unable to recall words. Questions acted as cues.  Questions that contained more information were more likely to give the participant a sense of familiarity in comparison to shorter, more concise questions with less information(Schwartz, Metcalfe.) This finding may also compliment the research found that retrieval can be improved by placing words into more complex sentences. Complex sentences give the participant more connections to words by acting as cues(Goldstein, 2011.)

Since retrieval is influenced by encoding, it’s best to use an effective method to properly encode the information to be recalled in the future. Retrieval cues are valuable tools when trying to improve chances of remembering information. Lucky for me, the internet assists me in researching words when I’m experiencing a TOT, so I don’t have to ask my husband what word I’m thinking of too often.
References Brown Roger. McNeill, David. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior. The “Tip of the Tongue” Phenomena. Harvard University Cambridge Massachusetts. 1966. pages 325. Thompson, Melissa. Tip-of-the-tongue Phenomena. 2011. Schwartz, Bennet L. Metcalfe, Janet. Tip-of-the-tongue (TOT) states: retrieval, behavior, and experience. Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2010.

Cognitive Psychology Connecting Mind, Research, and Everyday Experience. Goldstein, E. Bruce. Third Edition. Wadsworth, Cengage Learning. 2011.


Prosopagnosia is a neurological disorder that is described as, “an inability to recognize faces”(Goldstein, 2011.) It is also known as face blindness or facial agnosia. There are various degrees of impairment, that range mildly from an inability to recognize a familiar face to more severe by not being able to distinguish the difference between a face and an object(, 2007.) Brad Pitt believes he might have some form of this disorder, but is undiagnosed at this time.

Prosopagnosia is thought to be the result of people who have abnormalities, damage, or impairment to their temporal lobe on the lower right side of the brain in a fold called the fusiform gyrus. The fusiform gyrus coordinates with neural systems that control facial perception and memory. This disorder is thought to be the result of stroke, traumatic brain injury, or a neurodegenerative disease. At times this can be congenital, present without brain damage since birth. Congenital prosopagnosia appears to run in families. Children with Autism often have some degree of prosopagnosia, which may explain their impaired social development(, 2007.)

Unless prosopagnosia is causing a person to not recognize themselves in the mirror, many people go undiagnosed into adulthood without realizing there is a real disorder present. A woman named Ronna Benjamin didn’t think much of it until she ran into situations, such as previously having a woman over for dinner with her husband and not recognizing her at a later date in the grocery store. Her name sounded familiar, but she couldn’t match the face. Other times, she would meet people multiple times, yet still didn’t recognize them. Brad Pitt also lacks the ability to recognition people he has previously met and believes he could suffer from this disease as well, although, he is undiagnosed(Benjamin, 2014.)

Prosopagnosia can be socially detrimental. It can cause individuals to have difficulty remembering family and close friends. To treat this disorder, individuals must develop compensatory strategies, such as through others voices, clothing, or unique physical attributes. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) conducts research to learn more about prosopagnosia. Most of the research is focused on finding better ways to prevent, treat, and ultimately cure this disorder. Prosopagnosia Research Centers at Dartmouth College, Harvard University and University College London are conducting research to learn more about the causes and treatment of prosopagnosia. They also provide a facial recognition test through, 2014.)

Children with congenital prosopagnosia are born with this disability and have never had a time in their lives they could recognize faces.  With greater awareness of autism, and the autism spectrum disorders, which involve communication impairments such as prosopagnosia, it’s likely to make the disorder less overlooked in the future. With greater overall awareness, the Ronna Benjamin’s and Brad Pitt’s of the world may learn earlier on how to more effectively live their lives(, 2007.)

Cognitive Psychology Connecting Mind, Research, and Everyday Experience. Goldstein, E. Bruce. 2011. Third Edition. Wadsworth, Cengage Learning. NONDS Prosopagnosis Information Page. 2007. Ronna Benjamin. 2014.