Memory systems do not divide on consciousness: Reinterpreting memory in terms of activation and binding

Psychol Bull. 2009 Jan;135(1):23-49. doi: 10.1037/a0013974.


There is a popular hypothesis that performance on implicit and explicit memory tasks reflects 2 distinct memory systems. Explicit memory is said to store those experiences that can be consciously recollected, and implicit memory is said to store experiences and affect subsequent behavior but to be unavailable to conscious awareness. Although this division based on awareness is a useful taxonomy for memory tasks, the authors review the evidence that the unconscious character of implicit memory does not necessitate that it be treated as a separate system of human memory. They also argue that some implicit and explicit memory tasks share the same memory representations and that the important distinction is whether the task (implicit or explicit) requires the formation of a new association. The authors review and critique dissociations from the behavioral, amnesia, and neuroimaging literatures that have been advanced in support of separate explicit and implicit memory systems by highlighting contradictory evidence and by illustrating how the data can be accounted for using a simple computational memory model that assumes the same memory representation for those disparate tasks.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Amnesia / physiopathology
  • Amnesia / psychology
  • Attention* / physiology
  • Awareness* / physiology
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Concept Formation* / physiology
  • Consciousness* / physiology
  • Humans
  • Mental Recall* / physiology
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Recognition, Psychology
  • Retention, Psychology / physiology