Brain Farts and the Science Behind it

Today I was chatting away with a coworker, during lunch. We often talk about different movies and television shows that pique our interest. Most of these are on Netflix. This has absolutely nothing to do with the topic at hand, but I thought I’d throw in a little distractor. I’m sneaky that way. Now you’re thinking about the latest thing you’ve watched on Netflix, aren’t you?

Moving along.

I was trying to remember a series of very well-known movies that this particular actress (which we were discussing) was featured in. I came up blank. In fact, I couldn’t remember a single name of ANY of the famous actors who played in the movie or even the general topic. Bizarre. Someone had snuck up behind me and managed to remove half of my cerebral cortex without my written consent.

I’ve watched these movies a number of times. When I tell you what it is, you’ll completely get it. But there I was…stumped. It’s as if Gandalf, himself, was standing there with his magic walking stick, thrusting and shaking it in my direction whilst screaming at the top of his lungs, “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!!!”

My brain was locked up. I decided to try the back door to see if I could get in that way. I got in, alright, only to discover a gang of crickets just hanging around, smoking and scratching their groins. They didn’t even have the decency to chirp. One even turned to me with an annoyed look on his face as if to say:


Apparently the aliens had removed my entire brain.

I was starting to look like some frantic lunatic in front of my poor coworker as I spat out words into incomplete sentences that went more or less like this:

“It’s the…!!! You know, that guy…who…, his name is….!!! Oh GAWD! I CAN’T!!! JEEEZ!”

“Who the frig STOLE MY BRAIN?!”

Short Term Memory Loss Support Group: 'Good evening. You're probably all wondering why you just walked into this room.'

As it turns out, there is a perfectly logical explanation that’s not only been documented but several people have given this phenomenon, serious thought. In fact, one of them first started researching this socially awkward and random occurrence in 1890. Possibly that’s when someone noticed it was nearing an epidemic and thought it wise to look into it.

It was then coined: TOT (tip-of-the-tongue syndrome). Then, in 1966, a fellow named David McNeil published a whole paper on it in the Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior. You can download it here.

So, what’s this TOT thing all about and why is it happening (mostly to me, I’m convinced) anyway?

Evidently, it’s partially to do with age. No huge surprise, there. There are also a number of other factors that contribute to this annoying irritant. Sleep deprivation, anxiety, alcohol and distraction and basically anything that can affect your physical and cognitive health will be party to this and make it happen more often.

In recent years the causes have become much more interesting: psycholinguistic, for example. My, that’s a fancy word, now what the heck does it mean? Essentially, it’s the study of how the psyche responds to words and languages. So, an issue would be a temporary breakdown in your vocabulary word retrieval.

A large portion of: names, dates, places and numbers decided to go on vacation without checking with the rest of us, first.

Unfortunately I don’t have good news, fellow cranium-flatulators, on fixing this intolerable behavior. There are not a lot of ‘fix it’ solutions out there. However, one fellow made a few up of his own. Dr. Gary Small, a ‘professor of psychiatry and aging’ at the UCLA SEMEL Institute developed the: “Look, Snap, Connect” technique. If you’re interested, you can find out all about it, here.

I’m quite relieved that this is a relatively common phenomenon, even though I suspect I suffer from it far more than others.
I’m going to go with the: My-brain-was-full-and-I-needed-it-for-more-important-things theory.


Oh! And the move was X-men. See? Completely common, everybody has seen it and I haven’t a clue why I drew a blank.

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