Episodic Memory

Antique family photosEpisodic memory is a form of autobiographical memory that allows people to recall specific incidents from their life. Episodic memory is declarative, which means it can be explicitly recalled and repeated.

How Episodic Memories are Stored

The medial temporal lobe, which contains the hippocampus, plays a prime role in storing and retrieving episodic memories. When there is a malfunction in this part of the brain, people can remember procedures but cannot remember specific autobiographical facts.

Episodic memories, like other memories, are part of long-term memory. Memories stored in long-term memory must be rehearsed. For example, a person must think about his/her birthday party during the party and the days after it to remember it. He or she is more likely to remember it if other people occasionally recall the birthday party, if he/she has pictures of the party, and if he/she periodically talks about it. Episodic memories that are not rehearsed may be forgotten or remembered inaccurately.

Episodic Memory and Learning

Episodic memory plays an important role in learning. People learn from their experiences, and may develop associations as a result of episodic memory. A person who is stung by a wasp while gardening, for example, may learn to be more cautious while gardening. In extreme cases, he/she may develop a phobia of wasps or gardening as a result of this episodic memory.

Episodic Memory and Psychology

Much of the information psychologists and therapists attempt to glean from their clients during therapy is from episodic memory. Early childhood memories, as well as memories from more recent events, can play an important role in understanding a person’s current life circumstances. Frequently, therapists help people draw connections between early memories and current behavior. A person whose father was distant and cold might be distant and cold him/herself. By recalling how his/her father’s behavior made him/her feel, he/she may be better-equipped to understand how his/her behavior affects others.


  1. Episodic Memory. (n.d.). Episodic Memory. Retrieved from http://eecs.vanderbilt.edu/cis/crl/episodicmemory.shtml
  2. Episodic memory. (n.d.). Scholarpedia. Retrieved from http://www.scholarpedia.org/article/Episodic_memory

Last Updated: 08-7-2015

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