Semantic memory is a kind of long-term memory that allows people to access various facts and ideas that they have acquired during their lives. Semantic memory largely pertains to what is known as general knowledge. Together with episodic memory, it can help people recall their past.
Here’s a closer look at how it works:
The Basics of Semantic Memory
The concept of semantic memory was put forward in 1972 by Wayne Donaldson and Endel Tulving. Tulving, wanting to distinguish the different kinds of long-term memory, identified several differences between semantic memory and episodic memory. He theorized that the two forms of memory differed in how they were used, how they worked, and the information they processed.
Semantic Memory and the Brain
Scientists hold opposing views regarding which areas of the brain are involved in dealing with semantic memory.
Some believe that both semantic and episodic memories are stored in the same regions of the brain. Some believe that semantic memory involves all areas of the brain.
Comparing Semantic and Episodic Memory
Semantic memory allows people to remember facts, concepts, and the ‘bigger picture.’ Episodic memory lets them recall specific life experiences. Where semantic memory provides objective truths, episodic memory brings up lived experiences. The information stored in semantic memory is typically devoid of context. In contrast, episodic memory evokes memories of specific things that a person has gone through.
Remembering the Past Through Semantic Memory
When people remember their past, they’re relying on their long-term memory to recall not just their experiences but also the facts and figures that tie their experiences to their larger knowledge base.
For example, a person recalling their experience of 9/11 will first use their semantic memory to remember that the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were attacked on the morning of September 11th, 2001. They will then fill in the blanks using their episodic memory: where they were, who they were with, and what they saw.
Similarly, a person recalling their experiences from the previous year’s holidays will first remember that Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November, and Christmas is celebrated on December 25th. These are both examples of facts drawn from semantic memory. They will then add the details of their experiences to their recollection using their episodic memory: the parties they attended, the friends and family they met, and the gifts that they bought for their loved ones.
About Stephanie Hart
The author Stephanie Hart is known for Mirror Mirror, her Collection of Memoirs and Stories. Her work also includes short stories and essays that have appeared in anthologies and literary magazines. Her books can be purchased from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and she can be contacted through her website.