Episodic Memory and Planning

Caroline R. Raby and Nicola S. Clayton

in The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Evolutionary Psychology

Published in print February 2012 | ISBN: 9780199738182
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

Episodic Memory and Planning


Episodic memory in humans is the recall of a specific event in the past, which the rememberer has the sense of having personally experienced. Semantic memory is knowledge of the past without the accompanying phenomenological experience. Most life events are remembered episodically for a short time, but some memories are retained episodically long term. The episodic memory system and personal future planning are closely related, and we refer to this as the episodic cognitive system. Key uses of episodic memory are in maintaining a sense of self-continuity, successful social interaction, and using information from past events to direct future behavior. Most, but not all, researchers believe that the episodic cognitive system emerged later in evolution than the semantic cognitive system. There is some evidence that some mammals and birds have some aspects of episodic memory and future thinking, but much more data is needed and on a greater variety of species. It is possible that animals have “event memory,” an evolutionary forerunner of human episodic cognitive abilities that allow them to act on specific past events and take actions for the future but that do not necessarily comprise the experience of mental time travel or of autonoesis.

Keywords: Episodic memory; Future planning; Semantic memory; Event memory; Mental time travel; Autonoesis

Article.  15270 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Social Psychology

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