The Feeling of Knowing: Neural Mechanisms and Implications for Memory

The Feeling of Knowing (FOK) is a phenomenon whereby one has a sense of familiarity with something but cannot remember the exact details (Tulving, 1985). This phenomenon is common in everyday life and has been the subject of study in cognitive psychology since the 1970s. The feeling of knowing is often accompanied by a sense of confidence that one knows the answer to a certain question or has seen something before, but is unable to retrieve the specific information required. This phenomenon is distinct from other types of memory, such as recall or recognition, and has been suggested to be related to metamemory, the knowledge of one’s own memory (Nelson & Narens, 1980).

Recent studies have provided insight into the neural mechanisms underlying the feeling of knowing. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies have identified a specific network of brain regions that are activated when participants experience the feeling of knowing (Adcock et al., 2006). This network includes the medial prefrontal cortex, the anterior cingulate cortex, the parahippocampal gyrus, and the posterior cingulate cortex. These regions are all involved in the consolidation and retrieval of memories, suggesting that the feeling of knowing is a result of activation of these areas during the process of memory retrieval (Adcock et al., 2006).

The feeling of knowing has implications for theories of memory, as it is thought to be related to metamemory, or the knowledge of one’s own memory. This suggests that the feeling of knowing is a form of self-awareness, and that the ability to recall information is influenced by our awareness of our own memory and our confidence in its accuracy (Nelson & Narens, 1980). Additionally, the feeling of knowing has implications for clinical populations, such as those with memory deficits. Studies have suggested that individuals with memory deficits may be more likely to experience the feeling of knowing, as they rely more heavily on metamemory to recall information (Grady et al., 2003).

In conclusion, the feeling of knowing is a distinct phenomenon that has been studied for decades. Recent research has provided insight into the neural mechanisms underlying the feeling of knowing, and has implications for theories of memory and clinical populations. Further research is needed to expand our understanding of the feeling of knowing and its implications for memory.


Adcock, R. A., Thangavel, A., Whitfield-Gabrieli, S., Knutson, B., & Gabrieli, J. D. E. (2006). Reward-motivated learning: Mesolimbic activation precedes memory formation. Neuron, 50(4), 507-517.

Grady, C. L., McIntosh, A. R., Beig, S., Keightley, M. L., & Graham, N. (2003). The neural correlates of episodic memory: A comparison of healthy aging and early-stage Alzheimer’s disease. Neuropsychologia, 41(5), 571-586.

Nelson, T. O., & Narens, L. (1980). Memory and metamemory: Issues in the study of knowing about knowing. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 109(1), 88-100.

Tulving, E. (1985). Memory and consciousness. Canadian Psychology, 26(1), 1-12.

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