The past several decades have witnessed great progress in our understanding of cognitive, biological, and neuroanatomical processes underlying memory functioning. We have learned, for example, that there are two dissociable memory systems—one that is conscious and declarative in nature and another that is unconscious and expressed through performance rather than through conscious recollection. Each of these broad categories of memory is composed of several qualitatively different functions that can be defined along a variety of dimensions.

We have also learned that encoding and memory reflect changes in neuronal function in different brain structures. The medial temporal lobe structures and medial diencephalon, for example, are critical for the formation of new declarative memories but have little impact on memory for previously learned information or nondeclarative forms of learning and memory. On the other hand, basal ganglia dysfunction can disrupt some aspects of nondeclarative memory (i.e., skill learning) while sparing declarative memory. The cerebellum is essential to most forms of classical conditioning, whereas the amygdala plays a key role in conditioned learning of fear responses and emotional modulation of memory.

Despite our advances in knowledge, we still know relatively little about where and how memories are preserved in long-term storage. We know that this information is not stored in the brain structures in which they are created and we presume instead that they are stored in the neocortex. The exact location and format in which memories are preserved over long periods of time remain unclear.

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