Personal semantics: at the crossroads of semantic and episodic memory

Trends Cogn Sci. 2012 Nov;16(11):550-8. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2012.09.003. Epub 2012 Oct 4.


Declarative memory is usually described as consisting of two systems: semantic and episodic memory. Between these two poles, however, may lie a third entity: personal semantics (PS). PS concerns knowledge of one's past. Although typically assumed to be an aspect of semantic memory, it is essentially absent from existing models of knowledge. Furthermore, like episodic memory (EM), PS is idiosyncratically personal (i.e., not culturally-shared). We show that, depending on how it is operationalized, the neural correlates of PS can look more similar to semantic memory, more similar to EM, or dissimilar to both. We consider three different perspectives to better integrate PS into existing models of declarative memory and suggest experimental strategies for disentangling PS from semantic and episodic memory.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Memory* / classification
  • Memory* / physiology
  • Models, Psychological
  • Neuroimaging