Declarative memory

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Declarative memory (sometimes referred to as Explicit memory) is one of two types of long term human memory. It refers to memories which can be consciously recalled such as facts and events.[1] Its counterpart is known as non-declarative or Procedural memory, which refers to unconscious memories such as skills (e.g. learning to ride a bicycle). Declarative memory can be divided into two categories: episodic memory which stores specific personal experiences and semantic memory which stores factual information.[2]



There are two types of declarative memory. Semantic memories are those that store general factual knowledge that is independent of personal experience. Examples include types of food, capital cities, lexical knowledge (vocabulary), etc.[2] Episodic memories are those that store specific events such as attending a class or flying to France. Retrieval of these memories can be thought of as mentally reliving the past events they concern. Episodic memory is believed by many to be the system that supports and underpins semantic memory.[2]


The study of human memory stretches back over the last 2000 years. An early attempt to understand memory can be found in Aristotle’s major treatise, On the Soul, in which he compares the human mind to a blank slate [3]. He theorized that all humans are born free of any knowledge and are the sum of their experiences. It wasn’t until the late 1800s, however, that a young German philosopher by the name of Herman Ebbinghaus developed the first scientific approach to studying memory.[4] While some of his findings have endured and remain relevant to this day (Learning Curve), his greatest contribution to the field of memory research was demonstrating that memory can be studied scientifically. In 1972, Endel Tulving proposed the distinction between episodic and semantic memory [2]. This was quickly adopted and is now widely accepted. Following this, in 1985, Daniel Schacter proposed a more general distinction between explicit (declarative) and implicit (procedural) memory [5] With the recent advances in neuroimaging technology, there have been a multitude of findings linking specific brain areas to declarative memory. Despite these advances in Cognitive psychology, there is still much to be discovered in terms of the operating mechanisms of declarative memory [6]. It is unclear whether declarative memory is mediated by a particular “memory system” or if it is more accurately classified as a “type of knowledge” and it is not known how or why declarative memory evolved to begin with [6].

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