Differences in memory for what, where, and when components of recently formed episodes

John J. Sakon, Roozbeh Kiani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


An integral feature of human memory is the ability to recall past events. What distinguishes such episodic memory from semantic or associative memory is the joint encoding and retrieval of “what,” “where,” and “when” (WWW) for such events. Surprisingly, little work has addressed whether all three components of WWW are retrieved with equal fidelity when remembering episodes. To study this question, we created a novel task where human participants identified matched or mismatched still images sampled from recently viewed synthetic movies. The mismatch images only probe one of the three WWW components at a time, allowing us to separately test accuracies for each component of the episodes. Crucially, each WWW component in the movies is easily distinguishable in isolation, thereby making any differences in accuracy between components due to how they are joined in memory. We find that memory for “when” has the lowest accuracy, with it being the component most influenced by primacy and recency. Furthermore, the memory of “when” is most susceptible to interference due to changes in task load. These findings suggest that episodes are not stored and retrieved as a coherent whole but instead their components are either stored or retrieved differentially as part of an active reconstruction process.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)310-325
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2022


  • episodic memory
  • interference
  • primacy
  • psychophysics
  • recency
  • Brain
  • Mental Recall
  • Semantics
  • Humans
  • Memory, Episodic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • General Neuroscience


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