Evidence That Event Boundaries Are Access Points for Memory Retrieval

Sebastian Michelmann, Uri Hasson, Kenneth A. Norman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


When recalling memories, we often scan information-rich continuous episodes, for example, to find our keys. How does our brain access and search through those memories? We suggest that high-level structure, marked by event boundaries, guides us through this process: In our computational model, memory scanning is sped up by skipping ahead to the next event boundary upon reaching a decision threshold. In adult Mechanical Turk workers from the United States, we used a movie (normed for event boundaries; Study 1, N = 203) to prompt memory scanning of movie segments for answers (Study 2, N = 298) and mental simulation (Study 3, N = 100) of these segments. Confirming model predictions, we found that memory-scanning times varied as a function of the number of event boundaries within a segment and the distance of the search target to the previous boundary (the key diagnostic parameter). Mental simulation times were also described by a skipping process with a higher skipping threshold than memory scanning. These findings identify event boundaries as access points to memory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)326-344
Number of pages19
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2023


  • episodic memory
  • event cognition
  • memory replay
  • memory search

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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