Semantic Memory and Episodic Memory

By Brad Bell

Memory is an important concept in psychology.  Two types of memory are semantic memory and episodic memory.   It is important to make a distinction between these two types of memories.   What is semantic memory?   What is episodic memory?

Semantic Memory Definition:

Semantic memory reflects the general knowledge we have about the world (e.g., concepts).

Episodic Memory Definition:

Episodic memory is our memory for events that we have personally experienced.

Semantic Memory Examples:

There are many examples of semantic memory.  Our knowledge of historical events is one example of semantic memory.  Memories of laws and organizational rules are semantic memories.  Moreover, memories for many basic concepts such as intelligence, compassion, and humor are semantic memories.

Episodic Memory Examples:

There are many examples of episodic memory.  Episodic memories are personal memories.  They include all the memories for the events in our lives.  These may be minor events, or they may be major events.  The episodic memories may include memory what happened on our birthdays and holidays, memories from high school and college, and memories for funny and sad events in our lives.

The Interference Theory of Forgetting

By Brad Bell

Why do we forget something?  This is an important question in psychology.   It may reflect memory interference.  The interference theory of forgetting suggest that we would forget something because other information learned is interfering with our ability to recall it.  There are two types of interference.

Proactive Interference

Proactive interference occurs when something that we previously learned interferes with remembering newer information.

For example, imagine that you took one psychology course last term, and you are currently taking a psychology course that is very similar to the psychology course you took last term.  You are finding it difficult to learn and remember the information in the psychology course you are currently taking.  This may be due to the interference with similar information that you learned in the psychology course you took last term.

Retroactive Interference

Retroactive interference occurs when newer information learned interferes with remembering previously learned information.

For example, you may have difficulty remembering what happened at a business meeting over a month ago because of information learned at a more recent business meeting.

 Vividness and Memory

By Brad Bell

  Imagine that you have to teach a course that many students find difficult and dry.  Many students seem to have difficulty recalling many of the concepts in the course.  What can you do to increase their recall of concepts and improve grades on exams?   Presenting information in a vivid manner is one possible technique that might increase recall of information.  Information could be presented in a more vivid manner by making it more concrete, detailed, and colorful. Some studies suggest that greater vividness in a message increases the ability to recall information in a message (e.g., Collins, Taylor, & Wood, 1988; Shedler & Manis, 1986).

In their first experiment, Shedler and Manis (1986) had participants listen to tape recording involving favorable and unfavorable arguments with respect a mother’s fitness as a parent.  In one condition, all the favorable arguments had vivid versions, and all the unfavorable arguments had nonvivid versions.  The opposite was true in the other condition.  The participants were asked to recall the arguments 48 hours later.  Their results suggest that greater vividness, on the average, increased the ability to recall arguments.  

In their second study, Collins, Taylor, and Wood 1988) had participants listen to four messages.  Their findings suggest that greater vividness, on the average, increased recall of message content.  However, greater vividness may not always increase recall of information in a message.  

Frey and Eagly (1993) did not find that greater vividness increased recall of information.  In fact, in their low intentional constraint condition, a vivid editorial decreased recall, on the average.  They also found that a vivid editorial was perceived to be more distracting and as having a less logical train of thought.   Thus, it may be important that the vivid information in a message is logical and not distracting.  (1)   In order to recall a message, ideas, or concepts, it may be good to create detailed and colorful examples that are perceived to be not distracting, and also logically consistent with the message, ideas, or concepts.  This might be a way to increase recall of the message, ideas, or concepts.   More research may be needed to gain a better understanding of the influence of vividness on memory.


1.  See their article for more information about their
study and findings.


Collins, R. L., Taylor, S. E., & Wood, J. V.  (1988). The vividness effect:  Elusive or Illusory?  Journal of Experimental Social Psychology24, 1-18.
Frey, K. P., & Eagly, A. H.  (1993).  Vividness can undermine the persuasiveness of messages.  Journal Personality and Social Psychology65, 32-44.
Shedler, J., Manis, M. (1986).  Can the availability heuristic explain vividness effects?  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology51, 26-36.