Why is it that we have the ability to remember the details of our first kiss like the time, location, day, and even the clothing we were wearing when it happened? Yet, among plenty of other things we can hardly remember the food we ate for breakfast the day before. Although each of these memories were events in which you participated in, only one Is episodic in nature. Episodic memories represent our memory of experiences and specific events that allow us to reconstruct the actual events in our minds at any given point in our lives. We tend to see ourselves as actors in these events and the emotional feeling is normally part of this memory as well not just the details and facts of the event almost like an “episode” of our lives.
There are three steps in episodic memories, they are encoding, consolidation, and retrieval. Encoding is the process of receiving and registering information. Attention is a necessary component for encoding events and information effectively. If you are distracted you are less likely to recall the event. The next step is consolidation, the process by which memory traces of encoded information are strengthened, made stable, and stored for later retrieval. This process is completed easier by linking the information ready to store with an existing network of information. The memory trace can indefinitely be retrieved once the information or event has been consolidated which can take anywhere from days to weeks. The last and final step of forming episodic memory is retrieval, which like it sounds, is the recollection of the information that was encoded. This can be expressed as mentally traveling back in time to replay that moment.
Someone’s first kiss can have a very large emotional tie, making the event easy to encode and consolidate as well as easy to retrieve later on. Due to the episodic memory, if you wanted to know what color shirt you were wearing during your first kiss you would play the “episode” in your mind as if you were watching yourself in order to easily “retrieve” such information.
UCSF Memory and Aging Center (2015) Episodic Memory http://memory.ucsf.edu/brain/memory/episodic San Francisco, CA: Sandler Neurosciences Center.
Goldstein, E. B. (2011). Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind, Research, and Everyday Experience (3rd Ed.). California: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.