Episodic Memory

As described earlier, episodic memory can be defined as memory for information that is associated with a time and place of occurrence. Take, as an example, a semantic fact: one may know that the turn of the century French impressionist painter Claude Monet lived and worked for many years in his provincial home at Giverny. This fact is in the domain of semantic memory. However, one's memory of learning this fact in an art history course would be an episodic memory. Episodic memory is often studied in a controlled laboratory setting using recognition or recall tasks, described in the introduction to this article. These tasks require memory for a source code (e.g., time or place of occurrence) that is the essence of episodic memory. In the context of neuroimaging, the encoding and/or retrieval phases of these tasks are scanned using PET or fMRI and then compared to a control task with a diminished or absent demand on memory.

These studies have identified a set of regions underlying episodic memory. These include medial temporal structures, such as the hippocampus and parahippo-campal areas, prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate cortex, cerebellum, and parietal and superior temporal association cortices (shown in Fig. 2). Important hemispheric, regional, and functional differences exist, however, between the encoding and retrieval phases of episodic memory. In addition to exploring these differences, neuroimaging studies have also begun to examine cases in which this system performs inadequately.

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