Psychotherapy and Neuroscience

Explicit-Declarative Memory

Explicit or declarative memory is memory that is derived from conscious awareness (Schacter, 1987). It is dependent on the relational processing capabilities of an intact hippocampus (Squire, 1992). As such it facilitates the ability for understanding the relationships between coactivated stimuli (S,S*) or events (White & McDonald, 2002). According to Larry Squire (1992) explicit or declarative memory is described as being accessible and as supporting cue/stimulus dependent and independent recognition and recall. It is fast learning; with developmental maturity, it can support quick one-trial learning. Though this type of memory’s learning has representational flexibility, it is also fallible. It is not associated with one specific sensory modality or context and not inextricably tied to the original learning context (Ryan & Cohen, 2003). Explicit and declarative learning involves complex multimodal associations (Squire et al., 1993). Finally its thought process is purposeful and intentional. In summary explicit or declarative memory is dependent on an intact hippocampus and is characterized by its capacity for recallable recognition and retrieval as well as stimulus-stimulus relational processing.

There are two forms of declarative memory, namely semantic and episodic (Squire, 1992). Semantic memory is memory for general facts and knowledge, e.g. names, places, dates, events, etc. One doesn’t remember exactly when, where, and how a certain fact is learned, only its byproduct is remembered and encapsulated in memory for the fact. Episodic memory (Tulving, 1983) begins with experiencing an event and ends with its subjective remembering or retrievable recall for the event. Its “mental reliving” involves the receipt, storage and retrievable recognition and recall of temporally linked and dated event-related information. Autobiographical memory is a type of episodic memory that is embedded with personal relevance. Episodic memory can be differentiated from semantic memory’s general knowledge by its self-referential uniqueness in time and space. Both are easily retrievable, fallible, fast learning, and in full awareness.


Ryan, J.D., & Cohen, N.J. (2003). Evaluating the neuropsychological dissociation evidence for multiple memory systems. Cognitive, Affective, and Behavioral Neuroscience, 3(3), 168-185.

Squire, L.R. (1992). Memory and the hippocampus: a synthesis from findings with monkeys and humans. Psychological Reviews, 99(2), 195-231.

Schacter, D.L. (1992). Implicit knowledge: new perspectives on unconscious processes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, U.S.A., 89(23), 11113-7.

Squire, L.R., Knowlton, B., & Musen, G. (1993). The structure and organization of memory. Annual Review of Psychology, 44, 453-95.

Tulving, E. (1983). Elements of episodic memory. New York: Oxford University Press (Chapter 9).

White, N.M., & McDonald, R.J. (2002). Multiple parallel memory systems in the brain of the rat. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 777, 125-184.