Tulving's Explanation of Memory

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Tulving 1972 Semantic and Episodic Memories

  • Tulving propsed that LTM could be divided into 2 different memory stores: episodic memory and semantic memory in declarative memory
  • The 2 stores differ in how they operate and the types of information they process 

Semantic Memories:

  • Proceses ideas and concepts that are NOT drawn from personal experiences- general knowledge (memory for meanings, associated with other facts- link concepts)

-2 + 2 = 4 

Episodic Memories:

  • A person's unique memory of a specific event (linked to time and context they took place)

-Your first day at college

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Semantic Memories

What is it?

  • Knowledge and facts of what words and symbols mean- 'mental encyclopedia'


  • Acoustic
  • It is not organised like episodic but it can be encoded from episodic
  • Easier to retrieve


  • Can occur without learning
  • Understanding rules
  • Doesn't rely on cues but they can be used 


  • Memory trace is strong and there is less to transform e.g. 2 + 2 = 4 will always be the same
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Episodic Memories

What is it?

  • Memory of personal events- a 'mental diary' of our life events


  • Perceptionally encoded- all forms (visual, acoustic and semantic)
  • Stored in terms of temporal links (when) and spatial links (where)


  • Cues which are encoded at point of learning
  • Prior knowledge needed to access the memory


  • Due to retrieval cue failure
  • Memories can be changed/distorted as they're linked to previous memories
  • ^This is key for eyewitness testimony- may change events etc.
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Evaluation Points


  • Clive wearing supports Tulving’s ideas of different types of LTM. He had damage caused to his hippocampus, so shouldn’t have any LTM, but was able to play the piano and remembered his wife. This verifies that LTM is split into semantic and episodic memories.

Applications and Implications to Real Life:

  • Can be applied to educational settings,  LTM isn’t just about rehearsal as meaningfulness and understanding are important in forming different LTMs. So, teachers could be advised that rote learning is not the better form of learning, students need to understand what the information means or learn the rules involved in maths problems.

Comparisons and Credibility:

  • Neurological evidence, episodic memories are affected if there is medial temporal lobe or prefrontal lobe damage but semantic memories aren’t. This provides objective and scientific evidence for types of LTM.
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More Evaluation Points

How Good is Research:

  • Hard to test separately, two stores rely on each other,so a list of words to test semantic memory could also use episodic memory too, therefore it is difficult to verify separate stores in experimental evidence.
  • PET scans
  • Case Studies etc.


  • However, case studies of brain damage patients also criticise the theory, as H.M and Clive Wearing were both able to learn skills; it was found that maybe there was a 3rd store called procedural memory which the theory did not consider.

Applications and Implications to Real Life:

  • The theory can help in Eye Witness Testimony: episodic memories can be distorted by similar information in retrieval, therefore this can help police officers, in advising them to question witnesses soon after the event before the news or their friends accounts of the event as it affects their episodic memory
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