Professor White / Cognition and Aging Lab


Dr. White’s research investigates memory and language processes in younger and older adults, with specific emphasis on word retrieval, language production, and language comprehension. Over the past several years, we have been examining factors that influence word retrieval, speech production, and spelling production and detection, in both younger and older adults. The majority of this research uses priming techniques to investigate word retrieval processes, such as the retrieval of low frequency words, names, and word spellings. Examples of specific research projects (including relevant publications and presentations with students*) are described below.



Hannah Emery ’12 and Rachel Stowe ’12 and Dr. White present their research at the 2012 Cognitive Aging Conference in Atlanta.

Lauren LaBat ’13 and Anne Rhynes ’13 present their research at the 2012 Meeting of the Psychonomic Society in Minneapolis.

Mary Godfrey ’13 presents her honor’s research at the 2012 Meeting of the Psychonomic Society in Minneapolis.

Tip-of-the-Tongue States

 Although language production often appears to occur without much effort (e.g., words seem to “roll off our tongues” in everyday conversation), the process becomes particularly frustrating when we find ourselves at a loss for words, especially when we want to produce a specific word that just won’t come to mind when we want to use it. This experience is known as a tip-of-the-tongue (TOT) state, which occurs when we cannot recall a known word. Research on TOT states has demonstrated that there are complex cognitive processes underlying the production of even a single word. With TOT states, the meaning of the word is known, but the word’s sounds are temporarily inaccessible, often as a result of non-recent or infrequent use of the word. Furthermore, access to speech sounds decreases with age, resulting in an increase in TOT states in older adults. Thus, this research is particularly relevant to older adults whose functioning in everyday tasks involving language is critical to avoid both further cognitive decline and social isolation.

 White, K. K., Abrams, L, & *Frame, E. A. (2013). Semantic category moderates  phonological priming of proper name retrieval during tip-of-the-tongue states. Language and Cognitive Processes, 28, 561-576.

Abrams, L., White, K. K., & *Eitel, S. L. (2003). Isolating phonological components that increase tip-of-the-tongue resolution. Memory and Cognition, 31, 1153-1162.

White, K. K., & Abrams, L. (2002). Does priming specific syllables during tip-of-the-tongue states facilitate word retrieval in older adults? Psychology and Aging, 17, 226-235. 


Production of Homophone Spelling Errors

 One of the more recent investigations in our lab focuses on younger and older adults’ production of written spelling errors.  Although considerable research has been conducted on speech errors, or “slips of the tongue", little research has investigated comparable errors in written language production, or “slips of the pen”. Speech errors are widely used as tools to understand the processes underlying spoken language production and to investigate the roles of phonology, morphology, semantics, and syntax in production. We have designed a new methodology to experimentally induce written errors. Specifically, we investigate homophone spelling errors: Homophones share phonology but differ in orthography, semantics, and sometimes part of speech. The production of a homophone substitution error occurs when a contextually inappropriate word (blue) is written in place of its contextually appropriate homophone (blew), e.g., “The feather blue in the wind.” The series of production experiments that we are conducting investigate how phonology, semantics, and syntax influence written errors, showing that orthographic errors can parallel phonological errors in many respects.


White, K. K., Abrams, L., & *Zoller, S. M. (2013). Perception-production asymmetries in homophone spelling: The unique influence of aging. Journal of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences.

White, K. K., Abrams, L, *Palm, G. M., & *Protasi, M. A. (2012). Age-related influences on lexical selection and orthographic encoding during homophone spelling. Psychology and Aging, 27, 67- 79.

White, K. K., Abrams, L., *McWhite, C. B., & *Hagler, H. L. (2010). Syntactic constraints in the retrieval of homophone orthography. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning Memory, & Cognition, 36, 160-169.

White, K. K., Abrams, L., *Zoller, S. M., & *Gibson, S. M. (2008). Why did I right that? Factors that influence the production of homophone substitution errors. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 61, 977-985.