What Is the Difference between Episodic and Semantic Memory?

Episodic and semantic memory are two major types of memories stored in long-term memory. Procedural memory, or non-declarative memory, which includes actions that have been learned and are performed somewhat below the conscious level — such as driving an automobile or tying a necktie — forms one category of long-term memory. The other category of long-term memory is declarative, which includes episodic and semantic memory.

Semantic memory refers to the part of memory that stores information people have learned, such as concepts, numerical processes, vocabulary, academic or work-related skills and facts. For information or skills to have reached a person’s semantic memory, which is part of their long-term memory, it must first go through their working memory, or short-term memory. Once they have processed the information in a significant way that involves them interacting with or developing a deeper understanding of it, it can then be stored in their long-term memory.

Episodic memory refers to life events that people remember. For one reason or another, people remember certain events that happen to them. They might be able to recall an embarrassing moment, because it was unique. An emotional or personally meaningful event, such as graduation from college or a breakup with a significant other, often is stored in episodic memory. People are usually able to remember the context — how they felt, the time and place, and other details — in which memories stored in their episodic memory occurred.

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The information and memories contained in both episodic and semantic memory are able to proceed there because they are important in some way to the person who stores them. For information to be stored in a person’s semantic memory, there usually needs to be an emotional or personally meaningful connection. Information in semantic memory is usually stored there after the person has significantly interacted with it by, for example, using it or synthesizing it with other information.

Access to episodic and semantic memory is usually available to people, because the information contained therein is stored in their long-term memory. People use different strategies to access the information and memories in their long-term memory. They may have ready access to some of them. Other parts may require more thought. Sometimes information or recollections from peoples’ long-term memory may be triggered and brought to the surface by specific stimuli, such as a word, the way a certain place looks or a particular song.

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Crispety
Post 8

@Starjo- It is amazing some of the things that your mind represses. I was watching a program that dealt with forms of amnesia. There was one guest on the show that suffered from complete memory loss.

This man did not remember anything before he was mugged and could not remember anything after the incident. He suffered from two different forms of amnesia and because his wallet was stolen the police were unable to identify him.

He actually did not know who he was. This was really incredible because I could not imagine having my past and my future wiped out like that. This man said that a psychiatrist is trying to work with him on some hypnotic therapies

in order to try to help him piece together parts of his life. I just don’t understand how no one ever came forward to say that they were missing a family member.

It was a really sad story. There was another lady that could not remember anything that she was told. In fact, she had to write down directions to her house and keep them with her because she virtually had no short term memory and would forget how to get home. She dealt with her amnesia by taking pictures of everything that was meaningful so that it would help her remember.

StarJo
Post 7

Something traumatic happened to my mother when she was young, but somehow, her mind blocked it out. She has specific nightmares a lot, and she wanted to get to the bottom of her dreams.

She went to a therapist for hypnosis. He told her that he could unlock her episodic memory with this technique. At first, she was skeptical, but she desperately wanted it to work, so she gave it a try.

He talked her into a deep state of relaxation. He asked her to remember her life as a little girl and the scary thing that happened. She began sweating and breathing hard, but she was able to tell him the details of the event.

Those memories were still in her brain after thirty years. It makes me wonder if hypnosis would work for things buried in your semantic memory as well. I learned some things in school that I would love to remember.

seag47
Post 6

I have an excellent episodic memory. I can remember the weather, exactly what words were said, and even what people were wearing during important times in my life.

I have noticed that many of my friends get the words that someone said out of order or wrong when telling someone else about something that happened earlier. When I remind them of the way it was actually stated, they realize that I am right.

I only hope that my episodic memory lasts well into old age. It would be a tragedy to lose all of this information.

My semantic memory is pretty good, but it needs jogging a bit more than my episodic one. I often have to refer to books when trying to do something I haven't done in awhile, like using a certain computer program, even though I used it for years and committed it to memory. Once I start reading, it all comes back to me, though.

KaBoom
Post 5

@Azuza - I think the trouble with committing academic stuff to memory is that usually things need to be important for you to remember them. As the article said, sometimes people remember stuff because it has meaning for them or made them feel a certain way.

I know when I was in college, I had a lot of trouble with classes I wasn't interested in! It's kind of hard to commit information that you find useless to your long term memory, you know?

Azuza
Post 4

When I was in college, I remember one professor talked a lot about getting information from your short-term memory into your semantic memory. To really learn something, it's not enough to just remember it for a short amount of time (like the time it takes to take a midterm.) You need to commit it to memory for the long term.

As the article said, the way to do this is to interact with the information. That's why learning strategies like taking notes, making flashcards, or playing a learning game work so well. They help you interact with the information so you can get it into your semantic memory.

Also, you might be able to commit the act of making flashcards into your episodic memory too!

pleonasm
Post 3

@umbra21 - You're so right -- it's really, really easy to trick your memory. Even though it can be useful to play up episodic memory associations to learn things, they are pretty fallible.

That's why police witnesses are so often shown to be wrong. You can totally convince someone they saw something they didn't, so that their episodic memory seems to vividly recall it, even though it didn't happen.

umbra21
Post 2

@indigomoth - I've heard of that method as well. In more practical terms you can use it to help you memorize a new language. I've done this myself.

Whenever you have to learn a new word, try to think of something it sounds like. For example, chat is French for cat. Chat obviously is like chatty in English.

So then you associate the two words. Chatty cat. That seems like it would just give you more things to remember, but the idea of a chatty cat is so much more easier to memorize than what seems like an abstract word by itself.

Human memory is a funny thing, but luckily it's easy to trick.

indigomoth
Post 1

I've heard that one of the best ways to memorize something is to use a mix of semantic and episodic memorization. That's how people do memory tricks, like remembering the order of a pack of cards.

Instead of trying to remember the pack like it was a sequence of numbers, or solely in semantic memory, they imagine, for example, walking down a city street. They know the first shop is the baker's shop and they make sure they "see" the first card in that window.

So now the card is in both semantic and episodic memory banks, although the episodic is only imagined. The next shop on the walk will have another card and so forth.

Then, in order to recall the card order they just "walk" down the street again.

I've never tried it myself, but I can definitely see why it would work.

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