23 January 2011

Episodic and semantic memory

Episodic memory (Markowitsch, 2008, 2010; Tulving, 2002) guides the processes by which human beings define themselves and assign meaning to the world. From the here and now, episodic memory enables us to reconstruct and re-encounter autobiographical experiences which have occurred throughout the course of our lives. Due to episodic remembering processes human beings are able to compare past experiences with present ones and project themselves into the future by making predictions and inferences that are extremely useful for anticipating possible outcomes of future experiences (Addis, Wong & Schacter, 2007; Schacter & Addis, 2007; Tulving, 2002).

My episodic memory of Paris

Semantic memory (Hart & Kraut, 2007; Tulving & Schacter, 1990), on the other hand, is the type of memory associated with the recollection of factual information and general knowledge of world. This information is organized into networks of related concepts (Tulving & Schacter, 1990) and does not include either the context of recollection (e.g. I know that Paris is the Capital of France, but I have never been to France and I do not remember when or where I learnt that). That is, semantic memory does not involve memory of a specific event in which the self has direct experience. This type of information includes not only unchallenged knowledge of the world, but also opinions and ideologies, and it is derived from episodic memory, that is, personal experiences. Episodic and semantic are two kinds of declarative memory, that is, memories which can be consciously recalled and be communicated and shared with others.

My semantic memory of Paris


Addis, D. R., Wong, A. T. & Schacter, D. L. (2007). Remembering the past and imagining the future: Common and distinct neural substrates during event construction and elaboration. Neuropsychologia 45, 1363-1377.

Hart, J. & Kraut, M.A. (eds.) (2007). Neural Basis of Semantic Memory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Markowitsch, H.J. (2008). Cultural memory and the neurosciences. In A. Erll & A. Nünning (eds.), Cultural Memory Studies. An International and Interdisciplinary Handbook (pp.275-283). Berlin/New York: de Gruyter.

Markowitsch, H. J. (2010). Autobiographical memory across the life span: brain imaging and neuropsychology. In W. Christiansen, E. Schier & J. Sutton (eds.), ASCS09: Proceedings of the 9th Conference of the Australasian Society for Cognitive Science (pp.224-231). Sydney: Macquarie Centre for Cognitive Science.

Schacter, D.L. & Addis, D.R. (2007). The cognitive neuroscience of constructive memory: Remembering the past and imagining the future. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 362, 773-786.

Tulving, E. & Schacter, D.L. (1990). Priming and human memory systems. Science 247, 301-306.

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