Endel Tulving

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Endel Tulving

Endel Tulving OC FRSC (born May 26, 1927) is an Estonian-born Canadian experimental psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist, known for his pioneering research on human memory. He is credited with proposing the distinction between semantic and episodic memory. Tulving is a professor emeritus at the University of Toronto. In 2006, he was named an Officer of the Order of Canada, Canada's highest civilian honour.



Tulving was born in Tartu, Estonia, in 1927. [1] [2] In 1944, after the Soviet Army entered Estonia, Tulving (then 17 years old) and his younger brother Hannes were separated from their family and sent to live in Germany. [1] In Germany, he finished high school and worked as a teacher and interpreter for the U.S. army. [1] [3] He briefly studied medicine at Heidelberg before he immigrated to Canada in 1949. [1] [3] In 1950, he married Ruth Mikkelsaar, a fellow Estonian from Tartu whom he had met at a refugee camp in Germany. [1] [3] They had three daughters: Elo Ann, Ruth, and Linda. [3]

Tulving completed a bachelor's (1953) and master's degree (1954) from the University of Toronto, and earned a PhD in experimental psychology (1957) from Harvard University. [1] [4] His doctoral dissertation was on the topic of oculomotor adjustments and visual acuity. [1]

In 1956, Tulving accepted a lectureship at the University of Toronto as a lecturer, where he would remain for the rest of his career. [1] He served as Chair of the Department of Psychology from 1974 to 1980, and became a Professor in 1985. [4] As of 2019, he holds the titles of Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto and Visiting Professor of Psychology at Washington University in St. Louis. [5]


Tulving has published at least 200 research articles and chapters, and he is widely cited, with an h-index of 69 (as of April, 2010), and in a Review of General Psychology survey, published in 2002, he ranked as the 36th most cited psychologist of the 20th century. [6] His published works in 1970s were particularly notable because it coincided with the new determination by many cognitive psychologists to confirm their theories in neuroscience using brain-imaging techniques. [7] During this period, Tulving mapped the areas of the brain, which are considered active during the encoding and retrieval of memory, effectively associating the medial temporal lobe and the hippocampus with episodic memory. [7] Tulving has published work on a variety of other topics, including the importance of mental organization of information in memory, [8] a model of brain hemisphere specialization for episodic memory, [9] and discovery of the Tulving-Wiseman function. [10]

Episodic and semantic memory

Tulving first made the distinction between episodic and semantic memory in a 1972 book chapter. [11] Episodic memory is the ability to consciously recollect previous experiences from memory (e.g., recalling a recent family trip to Disney World), whereas semantic memory is the ability to store more general knowledge in memory (e.g., the fact that Disney World is in Florida). This distinction was based on theoretical grounds and experimental psychology findings, and subsequently was linked to different neural systems in the brain by studies of brain damage and neuroimaging techniques. At the time, this type of theorizing represented a major departure from many contemporary theories of human learning and memory, which did not emphasize different kinds of subjective experience or brain systems. [12] Tulving's 1983 book Elements of Episodic Memory elaborated on these concepts, and has been cited over 3000 times.[ citation needed ] According to Tulving, the ability to travel back and forward in time mentally is unique to humans and this is made possible by the autonoetic consciousness and is the essence of episodic memory. [13]

Encoding specificity principle

Tulving's theory of "encoding specificity" emphasizes the importance of retrieval cues in accessing episodic memories. [14] The theory states that effective retrieval cues must overlap with the to-be-retrieved memory trace. Because the contents of the memory trace are primarily established during the initial encoding of the experience, retrieval cues will be maximally effective if they are similar to this encoded information. Tulving has dubbed the process through which a retrieval cue activates a stored memory "synergistic ecphory".[ This quote needs a citation ]

One implication of the encoding specificity principle is that forgetting may be caused by the lack of appropriate retrieval cues, as opposed to decay of a memory trace over time or interference from other memories. [15] Another implication is that there is more information stored in memory relative to what can be retrieved at any given point (i.e., availability vs. accessibility). [16]

Amnesia and consciousness

Tulving's research has emphasized the importance of episodic memory for our experience of consciousness and our understanding of time. For example, he conducted studies with the amnesic patient KC, who had relatively normal semantic memory but severely impaired episodic memory due to brain damage from a motorcycle accident. Tulving's work with KC highlighted the central importance of episodic memory for the subjective experience of one's self in time, an ability he dubbed "autonoetic consciousness". KC lacked this ability, failing to remember prior events and also failing to imagine or plan for the future. [17] Tulving also developed a cognitive task to measure different subjective states in memory, called the "remember"/"know" procedure. This task has been used extensively in cognitive psychology and neuroscience. [18]

Implicit memory and priming

Another area where Tulving has had an impact is the distinction between conscious or explicit memory (such as episodic memory) and more automatic forms of implicit memory (such as priming). Along with one of his students, Professor Daniel Schacter, Tulving provided several key experimental findings regarding implicit memory. [19] The distinction between implicit and explicit memory was a topic of debate in the 1980s and 1990s. Tulving and colleagues proposed that these different memory phenomena reflected different brain systems. [20] Others[ who? ] argued that these different memory phenomena reflected different psychological processes, rather than different memory systems. These processes would be instantiated in the brain, but they might reflect different aspects of performance from the same memory system, triggered by different task conditions. More recently, theorists have come to adopt components of each of these perspectives. [21]

Estonian Studies Foundation

In 1982, architect Elmar Tampõld proposed the idea of reinvesting Tartu College's surplus revenues for the founding of a Chair of Estonian Studies at the University of Toronto. The university agreed and in 1983, he helped establish the Chair of Estonian Studies Foundation with fellow expatriate Estonian professors, Endel Tulving and chemical engineer Olev Träss. The three men made the initial presentation to the University of Toronto and Tampõld became the Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Chair of Estonian Studies Foundation. [22] Since 1999, Jüri Kivimäe, Professor of History and Chair of Estonian Studies has headed the University of Toronto's Elmar Tampõld Chair of Estonian Studies. [23]

Honours and awards

Tulving is a member of seven distinguished societies: Fellow, Royal Society of Canada; Foreign Member, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences; Fellow, Royal Society of London; Foreign Honorary Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences; Foreign Associate, National Academy of Sciences; Foreign Member, Academia Europaea; and Foreign Member, Estonian Academy of Sciences. [4] [24]

Other honours include:

Selected works

Related Research Articles

Recall in memory refers to the mental process of retrieval of information from the past. Along with encoding and storage, it is one of the three core processes of memory. There are three main types of recall: free recall, cued recall and serial recall. Psychologists test these forms of recall as a way to study the memory processes of humans and animals. Two main theories of the process of recall are the two-stage theory and the theory of encoding specificity.

Semantic memory is one of the two types of explicit memory. Semantic memory refers to general world knowledge that we have accumulated throughout our lives. This general knowledge is intertwined in experience and dependent on culture. Semantic memory is distinct from episodic memory, which is our memory of experiences and specific events that occur during our lives, from which we can recreate at any given point. For instance, semantic memory might contain information about what a cat is, whereas episodic memory might contain a specific memory of petting a particular cat. We can learn about new concepts by applying our knowledge learned from things in the past. The counterpart to declarative or explicit memory is nondeclarative memory or implicit memory.

Episodic memory is the memory of every day events that can be explicitly stated or conjured. It is the collection of past personal experiences that occurred at a particular time and place. For example, if one remembers the party on their 7th birthday, this is an episodic memory. They allow an individual to figuratively travel back in time to remember the event that took place at that particular time and place.

Explicit memory is one of the two main types of long-term human memory. The other main type is implicit memory. Explicit memory is the conscious, intentional recollection of factual information, previous experiences, and concepts. Explicit memory can be divided into two categories: episodic memory, which stores specific personal experiences, and semantic memory, which stores factual information. Explicit memory is gradual learning, with multiple presentations of a stimulus and response.

The Levels of Processing model, created by Fergus I. M. Craik and Robert S. Lockhart in 1972, describes memory recall of stimuli as a function of the depth of mental processing. Deeper levels of analysis produce more elaborate, longer-lasting, and stronger memory traces than shallow levels of analysis. Depth of processing falls on a shallow to deep continuum. Shallow processing leads to a fragile memory trace that is susceptible to rapid decay. Conversely, deep processing results in a more durable memory trace.

Cue-dependent forgetting, or retrieval failure, is the failure to recall information without memory cues. The term either pertains to semantic cues, state-dependent cues or context-dependent cues.

Daniel Lawrence Schacter is an American psychologist. He is a Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. His research has focused on psychological and biological aspects of human memory and amnesia, with a particular emphasis on the distinction between conscious and nonconscious forms of memory and, more recently, on brain mechanisms of memory and brain distortion, and memory and future simulation.

Memory has the ability to encode, store and recall information. Memories give an organism the capability to learn and adapt from previous experiences as well as build relationships. Encoding allows a perceived item of use or interest to be converted into a construct that can be stored within the brain and recalled later from long-term memory. Working memory stores information for immediate use or manipulation which is aided through hooking onto previously archived items already present in the long-term memory of an individual.

In psychology, memory inhibition is the ability not to remember irrelevant information. The scientific concept of memory inhibition should not be confused with everyday uses of the word "inhibition". Scientifically speaking, memory inhibition is a type of cognitive inhibition, which is the stopping or overriding of a mental process, in whole or in part, with or without intention.

Fergus Ian Muirden Craik FRS is a cognitive psychologist known for his research on levels of processing in memory. This work was done in collaboration with Robert Lockhart at the University of Toronto in 1972 and continued with another collaborative effort with Endel Tulving in 1975. Craik has received numerous awards and is considered a leader in the area of memory, attention and cognitive aging. Moreover, his work over the years can be seen in developmental psychology, aging and memory, and the neuropsychology of memory.

Transfer-appropriate processing (TAP) is a type of state-dependent memory specifically showing that memory performance is not only determined by the depth of processing, but by the relationship between how information is initially encoded and how it is later retrieved.

In psychology, context-dependent memory is the improved recall of specific episodes or information when the context present at encoding and retrieval are the same. In a simpler manner, "when events are represented in memory, contextual information is stored along with memory targets; the context can therefore cue memories containing that contextual information". One particularly common example of context-dependence at work occurs when an individual has lost an item in an unknown location. Typically, people try to systematically "retrace their steps" to determine all of the possible places where the item might be located. Based on the role that context plays in determining recall, it is not at all surprising that individuals often quite easily discover the lost item upon returning to the correct context. This concept is heavily related to the encoding specificity principle.

In psychology, mental time travel is the capacity to mentally reconstruct personal events from the past as well as to imagine possible scenarios in the future. The term was coined by Endel Tulving in 1985, as was the largely synonymous term chronesthesia.

The recognition failure of recallable words is an experimental phenomenon in cognitive psychology originally discovered by the memory researcher Endel Tulving and colleagues. Although recognition of previously-studied words through a recognition memory test, in which the words are re-presented for a memory judgment, generally yields a greater response probability than the recall of previously studied words through a recall test, in which the words must be mentally retrieved from memory, Tulving found that this typical result could be reversed by manipulating the retrieval cues provided at test.

In cognitive psychology, a recall test is a test of memory of mind in which participants are presented with stimuli and then, after a delay, are asked to remember as many of the stimuli as possible. Memory performance can be indicated by measuring the percentage of stimuli the participant was able to recall. An example of this would be studying a list of 10 words and later recalling 5 of them. This is a 50 percent recall. Participants' responses also may be analyzed to determine if there is a pattern in the way items are being recalled from memory. For example, if participants are given a list consisting of types of vegetables and types of fruit, their recall can be assessed to determine whether they grouped vegetables together and fruits together. Recall is also involved when a person is asked to recollect life events, such as graduating high school, or to recall facts they have learned, such as the capital of Florida.

The encoding specificity principle is the general principle that matching the encoding contexts of information at recall assists in the retrieval of episodic memories. It provides a framework for understanding how the conditions present while encoding information relate to memory and recall of that information.

Retrieval-induced forgetting (RIF) is a memory phenomenon where remembering causes forgetting of other information in memory. The phenomenon was first demonstrated in 1994, although the concept of RIF has been previously discussed in the context of retrieval inhibition.

Reconstructive memory Act of Remembering Something influenced by Cognitive Processes

Reconstructive memory is a theory of memory recall, in which the act of remembering is influenced by various other cognitive processes including perception, imagination, semantic memory and beliefs, amongst others. People view their memories as being a coherent and truthful account of episodic memory and believe that their perspective is free from error during recall. However the reconstructive process of memory recall is subject to distortion by other intervening cognitive functions such as individual perceptions, social influences, and world knowledge, all of which can lead to errors during reconstruction.

Bilingual memory

Bilingualism is the regular use of two fluent languages, and bilinguals are those individuals who need and use two languages in their everyday lives. A person's bilingual memories are heavily dependent on the person's fluency, the age the second language was acquired, and high language proficiency to both languages. High proficiency provides mental flexibility across all domains of thought and forces them to adopt strategies that accelerate cognitive development. People who are bilingual integrate and organize the information of two languages, which creates advantages in terms of many cognitive abilities, such as intelligence, creativity, analogical reasoning, classification skills, problem solving, learning strategies, and thinking flexibility.

The forward testing effect, also known as test potentiated new learning, is a psychological learning theory which suggests that testing old information can improve learning of new information. Unlike traditional learning theories in educational psychology which have established the positive effect testing has when later attempting to retrieve the same information, the forward testing effect instead suggests that the testing experience itself possesses unique benefits which enhance the learning of new information. This memory effect is also distinct from the 'practice effect' which typically refers to an observed improvement which results from repetition and restudy, as the testing itself is considered as the catalyst for improved recall. Instead, this theory suggests that testing serves not only as a tool for assessment but as a learning tool which can aid in memory recall. The forward testing effect indicates that educators should encourage students to study using testing techniques rather than restudying information repeatedly.


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