Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Target article

Précis of Elements of episodic memory

Endel Tulvinga1

a1 Department of Psychology, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5S 1A1


Elements of episodic memory (Tulving 1983b) consists of three parts. Part I argues for the distinction between episodic and semantic memory as functionally separate albeit closely interacting systems. It begins with a review of the 1972 essay on the topic (Tulving 1972) and its shortcomings, presents a somewhat more complete characterization of the two forms of memory than the one that was possible in 1972, and proceeds to discuss empirical and theoretical reasons for a tentative acceptance of the functional distinction between the two systems and its possible extensions. Part II describes a framework for the study of episodic memory, dubbed General Abstract Processing System (GAPS). The basic unit in such study is an act of remembering. It begins with the witnessing of an event and ends with recollective experience of the event, with related memory performance, or both. The framework specifies a number of components (elements) of the act of remembering and their interrelations, classified under two broad categories of encoding and retrieval. Part III discusses experimental research under the label of “synergistic ecphory.” Ecphory is one of the central elements of retrieval; “synergistic” refers to the joint influence that the stored episodic information and the cognitively present retrieval information exert on the construction of the product of ecphory, the so-called ecphoric information. The concept of encoding specificity and the phenomenon of recognition failure of recallable words figure prominently in Part III. The final chapter of the book describes a model, named the synergistic ecphory model of retrieval, that relates qualitative characteristics of recollective experience and quantitative measures of memory performance in recall and recognition to the conjunction of episodic-memory traces and semantic-memory retrieval cues.