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Do humans use episodic memory to solve a What-Where-When memory task?

Lookup NU author(s): Stephen Holland, Dr Tom SmuldersORCiD



What-Where-When (WWW) memory tasks have been used to study episodic(-like) memory in non-human animals. In this study, we investigate whether humans use episodic memory to solve such a WWW memory task. Participants are assigned to one of two treatments, in which they hide different coin types (what) in different locations (where) on two separate occasions (when). In the Active treatment, which mimics the animal situation as closely as possible, participants are instructed to memorize the WWW information; in the Passive treatment, participants are unaware of the fact that memory will be tested. In both groups, the majority of participants report using a mental time travel strategy to solve the task, and performance on a different episodic memory test significantly predicts performance on the WWW memory task. This suggests that the WWW memory task is a good test of episodic memory in humans. Participants remember locations and coins from the first hiding session better than they do those of the second hiding session, suggesting their memories may be reinforced during the second hiding session. We also investigated how well episodic memory performance predicted performance on the three aspects of the WWW memory task separately. In the Passive treatment, episodic memory performance predicts performance on all three aspects of the WWW memory task equally. However, in the Active treatment it only predicts performance on the what component. This could imply that during active encoding a different memory system is used for where and when information than during passive encoding. Encoding of what information seems to rely on episodic memory processing in both conditions.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Holland SM, Smulders TV

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Animal Cognition

Year: 2011

Volume: 14

Issue: 1

Pages: 95-102

Print publication date: 01/01/2011

Date deposited: 02/03/2011

ISSN (print): 1435-9448

ISSN (electronic): 1435-9456

Publisher: Springer


DOI: 10.1007/s10071-010-0346-5


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