What are the Differences between Episodic and Semantic Memory? And How May they Interact?

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Whatare the Differences between Episodic and Semantic Memory? And How Maythey Interact?

Attemptsto understand the different types of human memory and how each workare as old as humanity itself. Thereare several definitions of memory, but not one is universallyaccepted and used. Each school of thought has its unique definitionof memory. Memory is defined as the ability to encode, store and holdand when necessary remember information and previous experiences(Cermak &amp Craik, 2014). All these activities take place in thehuman brain. Other scientists define memory as the total of what aperson can remember. It is what enables people to learn from the pastas they plan for the future. There are many types of memory. Thethree main types are sensory, short term and long term memory.Episodic and semantic memories are sub-branches of declarative orexplicit memory that deal with facts and events. This essay seeks toexplore the differences and differences between episodic and semanticmemories and the interaction between the two.


Episodicmemory deals with the memory of experiences and particular eventsthat have occurred in one’s life in a sequential manner. Theseexperiences and events include specific information about the date,location, and time. Using the information stored in this memory, onecan reconstruct a particular event that took place at some point intheir life. Episodic memory, as many specialists in this field agree,contains memory about time, places, similar emotions and contextualknowledge that one can accurately recall and state (Goldstein, 2014).An individual recalling something from their episodic memory can seethemselves in the memory, playing an active role in it. The emotionalattachment and the general circumstances and situations surroundingthat particular event are a part of the memory itself, not just basicdetails about the event. The memory shows when, how, where the eventtook place and who was involved.


Semanticmemory is a structurally organized archive of facts, definitions,ideas and knowledge about the everyday world that an individual hasgathered in their lifetime. This memory deals with the general facts,meanings, concepts and ideas that anyone has about their world(Byrne, 2009). This knowledge contained in semantic memory is notrelated to personal experience or the emotions of the holder.Information is added to the semantic memory every day when anindividual learns something new about their world or surrounding. Thecontexts and the personal experiences of the person at the time theyacquired the memory do not have a direct relation with the memoryafter its acquisition. Even though at its point of acquisition it hada personal context, semantic memory later stands alone as basicknowledge. A significant portion of semantic knowledge relates to themeanings of verbal symbols making it relational and abstract.Semantic memory includes vocabulary, mathematics, social norms amongothers.

Differencesbetween Episodic and Semantic Memory

Thereare several key differences between episodic and semantic memory.According to Eish (2014), the biggest of these differences is theirfunction. Semantic memory deals with knowing facts and concepts whileepisodic memory, on the other hand, deals with remembering events andexperiences. In other words, episodic memory is used to storelifetime events. Semantic memory is used to store the informationthat people have learned. It dwells on what is there or was there, orcould have been there accompanied by a form of awareness. Forexample, skills relating to an individual’s work are stored in thesemantic memory. Childhood memories such how the Christmas tree wasdecorated during a past Christmas is stored in the episodic memory.Some psychologists refer to episodic memory as mental travel throughtime accompanied by some familiarity.

Therelationship between remembering and knowing is the other differencethat comes in between episodic and semantic memory. In episodicmemory, the individual always knows what they remember. In semanticmemory, the individual may not necessarily know what they remember.The type of awareness associated with remembering in each memory isthe other difference between the two memories. Remembering inepisodic and semantic memories is driven by different states ofawareness. In episodic memory, the awareness isautonoetic,which is based on the self, while in semantic memory the awarenessis noetic, based on knowing.

Regardingage, semantic memory is way older than episodic memory (Hasselmo,2012). The concept of episodic memory is a new phenomenon that is anew entrant to the field of evolutionary science. Just like humans,many animals, mainly birds, and mammals possess well functioningsemantic memory systems. Proof of this fact is their well-developedunderstanding of their world. However, there is no verifiableevidence to show that they have episodic memory like humans. Theother difference is that episodic memory is the only form of memorythat requires an individual to refer to past experiences to use it.One needs to experience and event again to remember it well but insemantic memory, one does not have to re-experience how the learnedwhat they already know to remember it.

Thefeeling that is accompanied by remembering is the other keydifference between episodic and semantic memory. In episodic memory,the individual relives the feeling they had when the actual memorywas made. For instance, one may cry when they remember their break upwith their first love. Semantic memory, on the other hand, does notarouse emotions or feeling since there is no personal connectionbetween the facts or ideas being remembered and the personremembering the memory (Zoccoli, 2007). For example, remembering thatgrass is green does not arouse any feeling or emotional breaks in aperson.

Similaritiesbetween Episodic and Semantic Memory

Episodicand semantic memories are similar in many ways. To start with, bothmemories are broad and complex. Unlike the working memory that haslimited capacity to store information, these two memories have aninfinite capacity to contain information. This means that bothepisodic and semantic memories can store an unlimited amount ofinformation that can be used when needed (Kahana, 2012). The othersimilarity is that the cognitive processes used to encode and decodeinformation in episodic and semantic memory are similar. This impliesthat in both episodic and semantic memories, information is encodedthrough similar processes.

Theinformation stored in both memories can be shared and expressed totheir people symbolically. This scenario implies that semantic andepisodic memories have similar ways of communicating and expressingthe information they carry from the holder of the memory to otherpeople. The principles governing their use such as the specificityof encoding and the appropriate transfer methods is the other commonfeature between episodic and semantic memory (Roediger &amp Craik,2014). The operations of both memories are governed by similarprinciples as mentioned before. For example, on accessibility,information from both memories can be flexibly accessed through someretrieval questions and avenues.

Anothercommonality between episodic and semantic memory is that both of themare cognitive systems. What this means is that the information theycontain can be reflected upon by the holder without affecting anyrelated actions. In this aspect, they differ from other kinds ofprocedural memory where the input and output of information aremandatory. Lastly, both episodic and semantic memories make use ofmultimodal influences. Consequently, they can receive and storeinformation from varied sensory organs including internally generatedsources.

Interactionbetween Episodic and Semantic Memory

Semanticand episodic memories are connected in their operation. As mostpsychologists agree, semantic is derived from episodic memory througha steady flow of information. Right from childhood, one learns newthings every day. After some time, what was learned becomes part ofthe person, they become permanently stored in their long-term memory,becoming semantic memories (Palmer, 2014). What is learned throughepisodic memory then moved to semantic memory is backed up byepisodic memory. Most experts in this field agree that there is aslow but constant shift from episodic to semantic memory. Thistransition occurs when the episodic memory loses touch withparticular events, and the information is then stored in semanticmemory as general knowledge (Binder &amp Deasi, 2011). For example,episodic memories of dialing numbers on a toy phone become semanticmemories when one knows how to use a phone without recalling how theylearned to use it. However, not all semantic memories trace theirorigins to episodic memories. Some memories are just as semantic fromscratch.


Thehuman memory is used to encode, store and hold and when necessaryremember information and previous experiences. Episodic and semanticmemories are two sub-branches of declarative memory under long-termmemory. Episodic memory deals with experiences and events whilesemantic memories deal with facts and concepts. Several differencesexist between the two. These include their uses and rememberingprocedures. The two memories have some common features like unlimitedcapacity and use of multimodal influences. Episodic and semanticmemories interact when information that was stored in the episodicmemory becomes general knowledge, transitioning to semantic memory.


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