Often when we talk about what we remember or stop remembering, we are referring not to general knowledge about the world, but about ourselves and our experiences. In this case, we are the main experts and we cannot talk about having more or less culture knowing more or less details about our life, as we decide which parts are relevant and which are not. In this article we will present you the definition of Episodic memory.
This type of memory based on the memories of our lives is episodic memory , and our brain has a system of nerve cells specialized in keeping it working, which produces curious phenomena. Next, we will see what are the characteristics of this mental capacity.
What is episodic memory?
What is known as episodic memory is the type of memory in charge of processing and storing the autobiographical information of each one and, specifically, the facet of the experiences themselves that can be expressed in words or images. In other words, it is the set of higher psychological processes that create narrative memories about one’s life, what was past.
Childhood memories are the typical example of declarative memory, since they are made up of small stories, stories that you lived in the first person and are linked to information about contexts that you went through .
Thus, episodic memory is composed of data related to a place and a time located at some point in the past, regardless of whether these memories are more accurate or more blurred.
On the other hand, and contrary to what has been defended for decades by psychological currents related to psychoanalysis , these memories are almost always conscious (and therefore limited), although sometimes, if the mark they have left is very weak , they can disappear for a while to timidly reappear afterwards, although in no case do they return in great detail or through a cathartic phase; The case of false memories instilled by someone else is different, as they do not correspond to something that actually happened.
Distinguishing it from emotional memory
Remember that episodic memory overlaps a lot with another type of memory that, despite working alongside the first, is governed by different logics: emotional memory .
This set of mental processes is responsible for leaving an emotional trace linked to past experiences , that is, something that cannot be expressed in words.
For example, when we smell something that reminds us of our youth in a small town, this information goes beyond words and what can be narrated and transmitted to other people; After all, it is made up of subjective emotions. We can explain stories about the things we live there, but we can’t spread emotions so directly, just an approximation.
In short, emotional memory is not part of the category called “declarative memory”, composed of semantic and episodic and, therefore, is not composed of concepts.
Parts of the brain involved
Possibly the two most relevant brain structures in the functioning of episodic memory are the hippocampus and the cerebral cortex, especially those found in the temporal lobes.
The hippocampus (as there is one in each hemisphere of the brain) are structures located within the temporal lobes, and are thought to act as a “directory” for information. That is, they encode memories belonging to the declarative memory , and then allow them to migrate to other areas of the brain, scattered throughout almost the entire cerebral cortex, where it is “stored” (especially important is the role of the prefrontal cortex ) .
In comparison, for example, emotional memory relies much more on another pair of structures known as the amygdala rather than on the hippocampus. In this way, people with an injured hippocampus can remember very little of their life and still preserve emotional responses to certain stimuli linked to their past: a house, music, etc.
Disorders that damage you
As episodic memory memories are spread over a large part of the brain, there are many pathologies and types of accidents capable of damaging it. In practice, it is the dementias that are most stimulated by the erosion of this mental capacity (along with other types of memory). The case of Alzheimer’s disease is known precisely because autobiographical memories are lost as the pathology progresses.
Other diseases capable of damaging it are brain tumors, cerebral ischemia, encephalitis in some of its varieties and a large number of serious neurological disorders, such as Korsakoff syndrome or spongiform encephalopathies that perforate the tissues of the nervous system.