Schedule of Events | Search Abstracts | Symposia | Invited Symposia | Poster Sessions | Data Blitz Sessions


Endel Tulving and the Modern Science of Memory

Symposium Session 10: Tuesday, April 16, 2024, 1:30 – 3:30 pm EDT, Ballroom Center

Chairs: Daniel L. Schacter1, Donna Rose Addis2,3; 1Harvard University, 2Rotman Research Institute, 3University of Toronto
Presenters: Daniel L. Schacter, Fergus Craik, R. Shayna Rosenbaum, Robert Cabeza, Donna Rose Addis, Karl K. Szpunar

Endel Tulving (1927-2023) was a major figure in the cognitive psychology and cognitive neuroscience of memory, generating numerous findings and theories that have shaped these fields over the past six decades. His most impactful ideas include the distinction between episodic and semantic memory, the encoding specificity principle, the role of the frontal lobes in encoding and retrieval, and how memory supports thinking about the future. This symposium honors these and others of Tulving’s most important contributions. The speakers will examine different aspects of Tulving’s work and link them to current issues in the cognitive neuroscience of memory.


Endel Tulving: An Introduction

Daniel L. Schacter1; 1Harvard University

Endel Tulving (1927-2023) produced a series of findings and ideas extending over more than a half-century that provided the conceptual and empirical foundation for the modern field of memory research. Beginning in cognitive psychology and extending into cognitive neuroscience later in his career, Tulving’s influence on the field has been massive. In this brief introduction to the symposium, I will summarize a few of Tulving’s career highlights, note some of my personal experiences working with him, and preview the five talks to follow.

Endel Tulving’s Cognitive Psychology

Fergus Craik1; 1Rotman Research Institute, Toronto

Endel Tulving’s early work on memory rejected the dominant paradigm of paired-associate learning in favor of free recall – learning and recalling a list of words in any order. This new-found freedom raised new questions: How did participants encode each word? How were the words related in the mind? And how were they retrieved in the free recall phase? These questions led first to the observation and measurement of subjective organization and its differentiation from associations as a mode of representation. Second, on considering why some words were not retrieved, Tulving drew the distinction between availability and accessibility – were the items no longer present or were they simply inaccessible, perhaps because the appropriate cue had not been applied? This last question led in turn to the notion that the “appropriate” cue for an encoded item must be some specific aspect of the context in which the item was initially processed – the encoding specificity principle. He also proposed that successful cues interacted with the neural record of the encoded event in a process he termed “synergistic ecphory”. But his major contribution may have been the concept of memory systems – he distinguished between episodic memory for events and semantic memory for general knowledge. He also included procedural memory, working memory and the perceptual representational systems in his scheme. Most impressively of all, these purely behavioral concepts have provided a solid foundation for later investigations of the neural bases of memory. Perhaps we are finally experiencing a cumulative science!

Do complex neuropsychological cases advance memory theory? The legacy of K.C.

R. Shayna Rosenbaum1; 1York University

Much of what we know about brain-behavior relations is made possible by the study of neuropsychological cases. Given the ubiquity of functional neuroimaging studies, and the importance they have assumed in elucidating brain function, the goal of my talk is to describe how single cases continue to challenge accepted dogma, lead to new discoveries, and suggest hypotheses and theories that steer the field in new directions. Endel Tulving proposed the now widely recognized distinction between episodic and semantic memory and supported its neuropsychological foundations in partnership with the single amnesic case K.C.: Extensive brain damage in K.C. resulted in “episodic amnesia,” which encompassed an entire lifetime of personal experiences but left relatively undisturbed semantic memory for personal and world facts acquired before his accident. I will describe how this pattern of spared and impaired memory extended to spatial memory for large-scale environments and beyond memory to decision-making. K.C. displayed a prominent dissociation between impaired detailed spatial memory but spared remote schematic spatial memory, sufficient for navigating within environments learned long ago. Despite deficits in episodic memory that extended to future imagining, a number of functions that were thought to depend on it, such as social, moral, and future decision-making, were spared. These patterns of performance have been confirmed in more recent studies of amnesic individuals with more selective hippocampal lesions. Together, this work provides novel, theoretical insights on the nature of hippocampal-neocortical interactions and the types of mnemonic and non-mnemonic abilities they help represent.

Tulving’s contributions to frontal and hippocampal theories in cognitive neuroscience

Robert Cabeza1; 1Duke University

This talk focuses on Tulving’s contributions to theories of the roles of prefrontal cortex (PFC) and hippocampus in episodic (EM) and semantic memory (SM). Tulving was one of the first to emphasize the PFC's role in EM. Although somewhat overlooked recently due to limitations in event-related fMRI, the hemispheric asymmetry he observed between EM encoding and retrieval in PET studies is a genuine phenomenon. At any rate, more significant than this hypothesis itself is that it gave rise to new ideas, including the role of the PFC in semantic processing during EM encoding and to monitoring during retrieval. Concerning the hippocampus, Tulving proposed that it plays a more critical role in EM than in SM. While there is now evidence that SM is not immune to hippocampal damage, Tulving’s hypothesis aligns with many findings, including those from developmental amnesia. It is crucial to emphasize that Tulving's view on the EM/SM distinction significantly evolved from focusing on types of memory tests to centering on the phenomenological qualities of EM retrieval (autonoetic consciousness) and SM retrieval (noetic consciousness). Thus, experimental paradigms that emphasize conscious qualities, such as the R/K paradigm, provide the most relevant data, and accumulated fMRI evidence clearly links hippocampal activity to R (EM) rather than to K (SM). In sum, Tulving’s ideas have played a major role in the development of cognitive neuroscience of memory.

Memory, Consciousness, and the Self

Donna Rose Addis1,2; 1Rotman Research Institute, 2University of Toronto

In one of Endel Tulving’s many seminal papers, “Memory and Consciousness” (1985), he introduced the idea that a core feature of episodic memory is a self-knowing conscious experience. Autonoetic consciousness imbues episodic memory with its phenomenal flavour, and the awareness we are re-experiencing our self from a previous point in time. This theory spurred decades of memory research examining the neural correlates of “remembering” vs “knowing”. Perhaps less well known are the contributions of Tulving’s theory to the study of the self. In this talk, I will first overview the concept of autonoesis. Next, using our Self and Autobiographical Memory framework, I will present evidence for the role of autonoetic consciousness in two core aspects of the self: (1) the awareness of the self’s present-moment experience, which is a critical precursor of episodic memory; and (2) the experience of the self across continuous time.

Episodic Future Thinking: From Mind to Society

Karl K. Szpunar1; 1Toronto Metropolitan University

Inspired by Endel Tulving’s seminal observations of comorbid memory and future thinking deficits in a case of amnesia, memory scientists have generated extensive research on the cognitive and neural bases of episodic future thinking—the act of simulating specific events that might occur in the future. I begin this talk by providing a brief overview of research on episodic future thinking and its role in supporting adaptive behaviour. I will then turn to an aspect of Endel Tulving’s writings about memory and future thinking that has received less attention from the field. Specifically, I will focus on the notion that the capacity to mentally traverse subjective time represents a driving force in the development and maintenance of culture and society. To this end, I will present new evidence indicating that thoughts about the future shift away from personal events and toward societal concerns as a function of increasing age, and that these age-related differences in thinking about the future predict complex social behaviour.







CNS Account Login


April 13–16  |  2024