Episodic Memories and Your Experiences

Episodic Memory

Episodic Memories and Your Experiences

  • Episodic memory is part of long-term explicit memory, and comprises a person’s unique recollection of experiences, events, and situations. Episodic memories usually include details of an event, the context in which the event took place, and emotions associated with the event. It involves conscious thought and is declarative.
  • Your memories of your first day of school, what you have for breakfast, and your graduation are all examples of episodic memories. Episodic memory is important as it helps individuals construct a sense of self.
  • The Canadian psychologist Endel Tulving first introduced the term ‘episodic memory’ to distinguish ‘remembering’ from ‘knowing.’
  • While episodic memory involves a person’s autobiographical experiences and associated events, semantic memory involves facts, ideas, and concepts acquired over time.
  • Specific events, general events, personal facts, and flashbulb memories constitute different types of episodic memory.

Episodic memory, which is a part of long-term explicit memory, comprises each person’s unique recollection of specific experiences, events and situations (Schacter, Gilbert & Wegner, 2009).

Generally, emotions associated with a memory tend to raise the lihood that that memory would be recollected more easily and more vividly (McCloskey, Wible & Cohen, 1988).

The term ‘episodic memory’ was first introduced in 1972 by the Canadian experimental psychologist Endel Tulving. He used the term to describe the difference between ‘remembering’ and ‘knowing.’

Tulving (1972) identified remembering as a feeling associated with the past (and therefore episodic), and knowing as recalling facts (and therefore semantic).

Additionally, Tulving (1985, 2002) pointed out that mental time travel, connection to self, and autonoetic consciousness were the three main properties of episodic memory.

Examples of Episodic Memory

Episodic memories are associated with autobiographical events.

    An example of an episodic memory is recalling your first kiss.Recalling what you did over the Christmas holidays.Remembering what you did and how you felt on a family holiday.

Types of Episodic Memory

Individuals may have different types of episodic memories as follows:

Specific Events

Specific events involve the recollection of particular moments from an individual’s autobiographical history. Recalling the first time you dove into the ocean is an example.

In the episodic memory system, information about specific events is tied to the situational context in which they occurred. The individual remembers information about the event (“what”) and its context of occurrence (e.g., “where” or “when” it happened).

General Events

General events involve recalling the feelings associated with a certain type of experience. Recalling what it is to dive into the ocean, in general, is an example of this type of episodic memory.

You may not remember each occasion wherein you dove into the ocean. But you do have a general recollection of having dived many times into ocean—upon which your feeling is based.

Personal Facts

Information intricately tied to a person’s experiences constitute personal facts. Knowing the color of your first bicycle and the name of your first dog are some examples.

Flashbulb Memories

Flashbulb memories are exceptionally vivid and highly detailed ‘snapshots’ of moments or circumstances wherein you learned important or surprising pieces of news (Brown & Kulik, 1977).

Recalling the moment you heard about the death of a family member or a major tragedy such as the 9/11 attacks might be an example.

It should be noted that there is much debate as to whether the vividness of a flashbulb memory stems from a virtual flash produced by the emotional intensity of a specific experience, or from a propensity to rehearse consequential moments—which can immensely strengthen the memory.

Episodic Memory vs. Semantic Memory

Episodic memory together with semantic memory are types of long-term memory known as explicit or declarative memory.

Episodic memory stores information relating to episodes in a person's life, such as childhood experiences. Semantic memory is responsible for storing factual knowledge about the world.

Semantic memory contains general knowledge that is not tied to the time when the information was learned, such as general knowledge, facts, rules and ideas. Episodic memory is made up of chronologically, or temporally dated, recollections of personal experiences.

There is also evidence for the different types of long-term memory from brain scans. For example, Tulving (1989) showed that when episodic memory is used the frontal lobes are activated but when the semantic memory is used the back of the cerebral cortex is active.

The medial temporal lobe which includes the hippocampus, and the right hemisphere of the prefrontal cortex play a vital role in the formation of new episodic memories (Janowsky, Shimamura & Squire, 1989).

Some research suggests that the prefrontal cortex employs its executive function to aid the more efficient storage of information (Gabrieli, Poldrack & Desmond, 1998). Other evidence, however, implies that the inferior parietal lobe enhances the perceived oldness, or the vividness of an experience (Berryhill, Picasso, Phuong, Cabeza & Olson, 2007).

Additionally, some experts hold that episodic memories permanently depend upon the hippocampus (Deisseroth, Singla, Toda, Monje, Palmer & Malenka, 2004).

Others, nonetheless, contend that episodic memories are stored in the hippocampus only for a short time. The latter group holds that these memories, following a brief period in the hippocampus, are consolidated to the neocortex. This opinion is supported by recent evidence on neurogenesis in the hippocampus which sheds light on the removal and formation of memories.

Moreover, episodic memory seems to emerge when a child is 3 or 4 years of age (Scarf, Gross, Colombo & Hayne, 2013).

Nonetheless, the activation of certain brain regions such as the hippocampus seems to differ among adults.

While older individuals (aged 67-80) seem to activate both the right and the left hippocampus, younger individuals (aged 23-39) do not activate the right hippocampus (Maguire & Frith, 2003).

Neural Networks

It is possible to store episodic memories in auto-associative neural networks provided that the representation of the stored memories contains information about the spatiotemporal context wherein the representation was examined (Khalil, Moftah & Moustafa, 2017).

Neural networks which enhance the comprehension of the transmission and the reception of various messages to and from the body, comprise interconnected structures or neurons which harmoniously produce different intra-brain cognitions (Henderson, 2012). Additionally, these networks can contract or expand the type of information being processed at a given time (Nestor, Kubicki, Gurrera, Niznikiewicz, Frumin, McCarley & Shenton, 2004).

Ayesh Perera recently graduated from Harvard University, where he studied politics, ethics and religion. He is presently conducting research in neuroscience and peak performance as an intern for the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies, while also working on a book of his own on constitutional law and legal interpretation.

How to reference this article:

Prera, A (2021, March 16). Episodic memory. Simply Psychology. www.simplypsychology.org/episodic-memory.html

APA Style References

Berryhill, M. E., Phuong, L., Picasso, L., Cabeza, R., & Olson, I. R. (2007). Parietal lobe and episodic memory: bilateral damage causes impaired free recall of autobiographical memory. Journal of Neuroscience, 27(52), 14415-14423.

Brown, R., & Kulik, J. (1977). Flashbulb memories. Cognition, 5(1), 73–99.

Clayton, N. S., Salwiczek, L. H., & Dickinson, A. (2007). Episodic memory. Current biology: CB, 17(6), R189–R191.

Deisseroth, K., Singla, S., Toda, H., Monje, M., Palmer, T. D., & Malenka, R. C. (2004). Excitation-neurogenesis coupling in adult neural stem/progenitor cells. Neuron, 42(4), 535–552.

Gabrieli, J. D., Poldrack, R. A., & Desmond, J. E. (1998). The role of left prefrontal cortex in language and memory. Proceedings of the national Academy of Sciences, 95(3), 906-913.

Henderson, J. M. (2012). “Connectomic surgery”: diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) tractography as a targeting modality for surgical modulation of neural networks. Frontiers in integrative neuroscience, 6, 15.

Howard, M. W., & Kahana, M. J. (2002). When does semantic similarity help episodic retrieval?. Journal of Memory and Language, 46(1), 85-98.

Janowsky, J. S., Shimamura, A. P., & Squire, L. R. (1989). Source memory impairment in patients with frontal lobe lesions. Neuropsychologia, 27(8), 1043-1056.

Khalil, R., Moftah, M. Z., & Moustafa, A. A. (2017). The effects of dynamical synapses on firing rate activity: a spiking neural network model. European Journal of Neuroscience, 46(9), 2445-2470.

Maguire, E. A., & Frith, C. D. (2003). Aging affects the engagement of the hippocampus during autobiographical memory retrieval. Brain, 126(7), 1511-1523.

McCloskey, M., Wible, C. G., & Cohen, N. J. (1988). Is there a special flashbulb-memory mechanism?. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 117(2), 171.

Nestor, P. G., Kubicki, M., Gurrera, R. J., Niznikiewicz, M., Frumin, M., McCarley, R. W., & Shenton, M. E. (2004). Neuropsychological correlates of diffusion tensor imaging in schizophrenia. Neuropsychology, 18(4), 629.

Scarf, D., Gross, J., Colombo, M., & Hayne, H. (2013). To have and to hold: Episodic memory in 3‐and 4‐year‐old children. Developmental psychobiology, 55(2), 125-132.

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

Tulving, E. (1983). Elements of Episodic Memory. London: Oxford University Press.

Tulving, E. (1989). Remembering and knowing the past. American Scientist, 77(4), 361-367.

Tulving, E., & Markowitsch, H. J. (1998). Episodic and declarative memory: role of the hippocampus. Hippocampus, 8(3), 198-204.

Tulving, E. (2002). Chronesthesia: Conscious awareness of subjective time.


Episodic Memories and Your Experiences

There are multiple types of memory:

  1. Episodic: Episodic memories are what most people think of as memory and include information about recent or past events and experiences, such as where you parked your car this morning or the dinner you had with a friend last month. The recollection of experiences is contingent on three steps of memory processing: encoding, consolidation/storage and retrieval. The hippocampus and surrounding structures in the temporal lobe are important in episodic memory and are part of an important network called the default mode network, which includes several brain areas including frontal and parietal regions and has been implicated in episodic memory functioning.
  2. Semantic: Semantic memory refers to your general knowledge including knowledge of facts. For example, your knowledge of what a car is and how an engine works are examples of semantic memory.
  3. Remote: The memory of events that occurred in the distant past is a type of episodic memory referred to as remote or long term memory. The underlying anatomy of remote memory is poorly understood, in part because testing this type of memory must be personalized to a patient’s autobiographical past. What is known is that, semantic memory, remote memory eventually becomes independent of the hippocampus and appears to be “stored” more broadly in the neocortex. ly because of this unique neuroanatomy, remote episodic memories do not tend to be as severely disrupted as recent episodic memories in neurodegenerative diseases (e.g., Alzheimer’s disease).
  4. Working: Working memory is used to describe the process where one “holds on” and manipulates to small bits of current information in mind, a telephone number. Though commonly referred to as short term memory, working memory is actually more closely related to attention and falls under the domain of executive function. The capacity of our working memory is limited, allowing us to keep only a few bits of information in mind at one time. Working memory involves the frontal cortex and parietal lobe.

Each type uses a different network in the brain, and therefore, one type can be affected by disease or injury while another type functions normally. 

Creating a Memory

The initial step in forming an episodic memory is called encoding, which is the process of receiving and registering information. Encoding is necessary for creating memory representations of information or events that you experience.

The process of encoding is dependent on you paying attention to an event or information. That is, if you are not paying attention to an event while it is happening because you are distracted, then you are less ly to remember the details from the event.

Attention is a necessary component for effectively encoding events or information.

Encoding of episodic memories is also influenced by how you process the event. Encoding of information can be strengthened by an elaboration process, which can involve making connections with the information at hand and/or relating the information to your personal experiences.

For example, if you were asked to remember and buy ten items at the grocery store, you would ly remember more of the items if you used a strategy of making a mental connection between the items rather than if you were to simply repeat the items a couple of times.

Using mnemonics or creating associations between the thing to be remembered and your personal experience can also enhance the encoding of memories.

For example, if you were introduced to someone named Charlie, you might make a connection that this is the same name as your uncle as a strategy to help you remember the person’s name. Overall, effective encoding is the initial process necessary for the formation of a new memory.

Memory consolidation, the next step in forming an episodic memory, is the process by which memory traces of encoded information are strengthened, stabilized and stored to facilitate later retrieval. Consolidation is also most effective when the information being stored can be linked to an existing network of information.

It is also strengthened by repeated access of the information to be remembered. The neural pathways from the hippocampus to the cortex underlie the process of consolidation and storage.

The number of neurons that are dedicated to a particular memory, as well as the frequency with which they fire together, help to strengthen the memory traces within the cortex. This process of consolidation occurs over the course of days to weeks and is subject to reorganization when new, relevant information is learned.

This reorganization assists in the storage of the new information, but also continues to strengthen the previously assimilated information. When a memory trace has been consolidated, the memory trace can be stored for later retrieval indefinitely.

The last step in forming episodic memories is called retrieval, which is the conscious recollection of information that was encoded and stored. Retrieving information from episodic memory depends upon contextual information or cues and how effectively the information was encoded and stored into memory.

Thus, if the information was not properly encoded because you were distracted, you may be less ly to retrieve details of the event or information. Emotional, semantic knowledge, olfactory, auditory and visual factors can act as cues or contextual information to help in the retrieval of episodic memory.

For example, when recalling where you parked your car, you may use the color of a sign you parked near and/or the floor of the parking structure as cues. Research also states that episodic retrieval can be associated with a sense of re-experiencing (i.e., “recollection”) of the event.

In order to remember where you parked or did not park your car, you have to mentally travel back to the moment or time you parked.

Memory & Dementia

The hippocampus, its surrounding regions, and the default mode network are susceptible to many types of neurological insults. One particular type of insult commonly seen in older adults is Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s disease is caused by abnormal protein misfoldings (amyloid and tau) that most often originates in medial temporal structures including the hippocampus and is known to disrupt default mode network connectivity. Indeed, episodic memory impairment is a hallmark sign of Alzheimer’s disease.

In addition to the hippocampus and default mode network, some other brain structures that play a role in memory are the thalamus, mammillary bodies and the amygdala.

Many different neurologic diseases and conditions can affect episodic memory.

These include, but are not limited to subarachnoid hemorrhage, trauma, hydrocephalus, tumors, metabolic conditions including vitamin B1 deficiency, infectious and inflammatory conditions such as Hashimoto’s encephalopathy and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.

These diseases directly target memory structures (e.g., hippocampus) and/or parts of the memory networks (e.g., default mode network). As mentioned, episodic memory is also influenced by an individual’s ability to attend to the environment.

Therefore, any conditions that disrupt attention can also impair the encoding of information. Attention is impacted by many conditions such as head injury, Lewy body dementia and delirium. Non-neurologic issues such as medications, anxiety, depression or pain also adversely impact episodic memory.

Neuropsychological Testing

A common way to assess episodic memory abilities is by using neuropsychological tests, including pen-and-paper, verbal and computer-based tasks. These measures give a clinician an objective method for evaluating how well a patient’s episodic memory is functioning compared to their peers. Neuropsychologists evaluate both verbal and visual episodic memory.

Asking an examinee to remember a list of words or recall a story are common methods for assessing verbal episodic memory. Asking an examinee to copy a figure, and then recall it at a later time, is a common test of visual episodic memory.

Neuropsychological evaluation complements other aspects of a comprehensive evaluation and is often able to detect deficits that are not captured using gross, neuroanatomical imaging.

Источник: https://memory.ucsf.edu/symptoms/memory

Episodic Memory And Its Unique Role In Our Lives

Episodic Memories and Your Experiences

By: Nicole Beasley

Updated March 03, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Aaron Horn



























  • Memoriesofpersonalfacts.Thisisbasicinformationsuchasnamesanddatesthatareimportanttoyou.Someexampleswouldbethenameofthecollegewhereyougotyourdegreeortheaddressofyourfirsthome.
  • Specificmemoriesofevents.Thesearethemomentsfromyourpersonalhistory,suchasthebirthofyourchildoryourtenthbirthdayparty.
  • «Snapshots»ofmomentswhenyoufoundoutimportantnews.Itmayhavebeenamajorlifeevent,suchasabirthoradeath.Forsomeofus,historicalmomentstheKennedyassassination,theChallengerdisaster,orthe9/11attacksliveinphotographicdetailinourminds.
  • Impressionsofgeneralevents.Wehavegeneralepisodicmemoriesofwhatitfeelstoswimincoollakewaterortoeatachocolateicecreamcone.






  1. Encoding.Thebrainconvertsthememoryintoaformatthatcanbeeasilystoredandrecognizedinthebrain.Thismaybeintheformofavisualimageortherepetitionofspecificwordsorphrases.
  2. Storage.Afterencoding,theexperiencecanonlyremaininyourshort-termmemoryforamaximumof20secondsbeforeitisforgotten.Ifthememoryisrehearsedorrepeated,itwillthengetfiledawayandorganizedinyourlong-termmemoryforlateruse.
  3. Retrieval.Thisiswhatyoudowhenyourecalltheeventorexperience,usuallybyaccessingtheimageorthewordsthatyouusedtoencodeit.












  • Trauma
  • VitaminB1deficiency
  • Subarachnoidhemorrhage
  • Tumors
  • Hashimoto'sencephalopathy
  • Hydrocephalus
  • Alzheimer's






Источник: https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/memory/episodic-memory-and-its-unique-role-in-our-lives/

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