Explicit Memory

The Nature of Explicit Memory Explained

Explicit memory, commonly known as declarative memory Opens in new window, is the capability with which we consciously recall learned information. This includes memory for abstract representations such as facts, rules, concepts and events and as such deals with information that can be declared, or expressed, usually in words.

Explicit memory is concerned with events or concepts. It is knowing that something is or was the case.

The contents of explicit memory can generally be described in words, although the memories themselves may also consist of other types of information, such as images.

Explicit memory is usually organized into spatial or temporal sequences or into knowledge hierarchies. Most implicit memories Opens in new window take much repetitive practice to establish but are then used automatically and quickly, whereas most explicit memories are established quickly, but take relatively slow conscious deliberation to use.

Types of Explicit Memory

Explicit memory or declarative memory is divided into two forms:

Semantic memory refers to knowledge that allows us to form and retain facts, concepts, and categories, both about the world and about the people we know, such as where they live, their occupations and interests, and their personality characteristics.

Such information is not linked to a specific episode but rather pertains across many different episodes and context. In contrast, episodic memory refers to autobiographical memories about the time, place, and circumstances of a given specific experience.

To make this distinction clearer, consider an example of an episodic memory, the memory of your first kiss. This memory includes information about the person whom you kissed, the place where it occurred, how you felt, and so forth.

In contrast, your semantic memory about kisses includes information such as that they involve the placing of a person’s lips on someone else or an object; are used to demonstrate ardor, affection, or appreciation; and are commonly given when people are meeting one another or when they are leaving.

In this example, whereas information contained in semantic memory is about kisses in general, that contained in episodic memory is about a particular kiss.

Episodic memory allows a reexperiencing of the event—providing the opportunity, in essence, to travel back in time (Tulving, 1985) whereas semantic knowledge allows us to generalize knowledge across time.