Declarative memory

Declarative memory is a type of long-term memory that allows us to recall past events. More on the different types.

Declarative memory, also known as explicit memory, is the type of long-term memory responsible for allowing us to consciously remember past events. It's different from procedural memory which is responsible for unconscious actions like driving or playing a sport. Learn more about how declarative memory works and the different types of memory it makes up.

What is declarative memory? definition and examples

The declarative memory psychology definition, taken from The Encylopedia of Child Behaviour and Development , states

Declarative or explicit memory is one of two categories of long-term memory. The other is procedural memory. Declarative memory is the conscious recollection of experiences, events, and information used in everyday living.

Declarative memory, or explicit memory, is the term given to memories that can be consciously recalled. This includes facts, concepts, and events. In contrast, procedural memory refers to skills and habits , such as how to ride a bike or how to play a piano.

What is a declarative memory example?

Once you know what it is, you'll be guaranteed to spot a declarative memory example in your day-to-day life. For example, you may have a friend who is trying to remember their wedding anniversary, and they ask you for help. This is an example of declarative memory because it requires conscious recollection of facts or events, such as dates.

This type of memory also includes the ability to tell stories from your past and describe what happened at certain times in your life.

What are the two types of declarative memories?

Declarative memories can be broken down into:

  1. Semantic memory

    This is what we use to store general knowledge, like the name of a person or country; it's the kind of information you can easily recall when you need to tell someone what you ate for dinner last night. It's also called "factual" or "general" knowledge.

  2. Episodic memory

    This is what we use to store personal experiences—your own life story; this type of memory helps us create mental images and remember how they were experienced in the past (as opposed to how they actually were). For example, if I told you that I went on vacation last summer, then asked where I went and what I did there, your episodic memory might allow you to bring up events from that trip such as visiting landmarks or taking part in activities with friends.

Let's have a look at the two components of declarative memory in more detail...

Semantic memories

Semantic memory is also called conceptual memory or general knowledge—the foundation for learning new information. In other words, you can think about it as your understanding about the world around us (e.g., “a dog has four legs”).

This type of information helps us understand how things are similar and different from each other—e.g., what a dog looks like compared to an elephant (they both have four legs) but they're very different in shape, size and behavior.

The information stored in semantic memory is usually general and impersonal—you might have a sense of what it means to have “a dog”, but you don't necessarily know any specific dogs or what their names are. Semantic memory can also be used to help us solve problems or make decisions (e.g., “if a dog bites me, then I need to go to the doctor").

Episodic memories

Episodic memories are personal memories that are rooted in specific time periods. In essence, it's your episodic memory that allows you to remember your life experiences. For example, you may have a memory of when you fell off your bike and scraped both knees as a child or that time your friend got drunk at the bar and made out with someone else’s boyfriend.

Research shows that episodic memory is closely tied to our sense of self and personal identity. In fact, it's almost impossible to imagine yourself without the ability to reminisce about specific events from your past. Episodic memory allows us to remember where we were, who we were with and what we were doing so that we can form personal connections with other people in our lives. It also helps us recall important life events (like getting married), which helps ground us in the present day and maintain a sense of continuity between the past and present.

Now that we've answered 'what is declarative memory?' and 'what are the two components of declarative memory?', it's time to get cracking with how to test and improve them.

What are examples of declarative tasks?

There are different brain exercises , or tasks, you can do to test the two different components of declarative memory.

For example, you can test your episodic memory by seeing if you can think of the date you first used Facebook, the name of your kindergarten teacher, and other details about your life. A good place to start is by remembering what year it is.

Episodic memory can also be tested by asking the person to remember specific details about their life. For example, you might ask: "What were you doing two weeks ago?" or "What did you have for tea two nights ago?" If they are able to tell you this information, then it means that their episodic memory is doing its job.

Semantic memory, on the other hand, is like a mental dictionary; it helps us with categorizing knowledge and understanding concepts and meanings in their cultural context. You can test it by asking the person to define words that are related to one another, and then seeing if they can correctly place them in the right categories. For example, you might ask: "What does the word ‘theory’ mean?" or "What are some examples of a theory?" If they can correctly place these words in their correct categories, then it means that their semantic memory is functioning properly.


  • Declarative memory is the conscious recollection of facts about events. It's a type of long-term memory that can be readily recalled and verbally communicated to another person.

  • There are two types of declarative memories: semantic and episodic.

  • Semantic memories are memories of specific facts or concepts that have been learned

  • Episodic memories are personal memories that are rooted in specific time periods or life experiences.


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