Theories of episodic memory

AR Mayes*, N Roberts

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Theories of episodic memory need to specify the encoding (representing), storage, and retrieval processes that underlie this form of memory and indicate the brain regions that mediate these processes and how they do so. Representation and re-representation (retrieval) of the spatiotemporally linked series of scenes, which constitute an episode, are probably mediated primarily by those parts of the posterior neocortex that process perceptual and semantic information. However, some role of the frontal neocortex and medial temporal lobes in representing aspects of context and high-level visual object information at encoding and retrieval cannot currently be excluded. Nevertheless, it is widely believed that the frontal neocortex is mainly involved in coordinating episodic encoding and retrieval and that the medial temporal lobe,,, store aspects of episodic information, Establishing where storage is located is very difficult and disagreement remains about the role of the posterior neocortex in episodic memory storage. One view is that this region stores all aspects of episodic memory ab initio for as long as memory lasts. This is compatible with evidence that the amygdala, basal forebrain, and midbrain modulate neocortical storage. Another view is that the posterior neocortex only gradually develops the ability to store some aspects of episodic information as a function of rehearsal over time and that this information is initially stored by the medial temporal lobes. A third view is that the posterior neocortex never stores these aspects of episodic information because the medial temporal lobes store them for as long as memory lasts in an increasingly redundant fashion. The last two views both postulate that the medial temporal lobes initially store contextual markers that serve to cohere featural information stored in the neocortex. Lesion and functional neuroimaging evidence still does not clearly distinguish between these views. Whether the feeling that an episodic memory is familiar depends on retrieving an association between a retrieved episode and this feeling, or by an attribution triggered by a printing process, is unclear. Evidence about whether the hippocampus and medial temporal lobe cortices play different roles in episodic memory is conflicting. Identifying similarities and differences between episodic memory and both semantic memory and priming will require careful componential analysis of episodic memory.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1395-1408
Number of pages14
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1413
Publication statusPublished - 29 Sept 2001
EventRoyal-Society Discussion Meeting on Episodic Memory - LONDON, United Kingdom
Duration: 24 Jan 200125 Jan 2001

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • episodic
  • representation
  • consolidation
  • recollection
  • familiarity
  • priming


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