Episodic and semantic memory are two major types of memories stored in long-term memory. Procedural memory, or non-declarative memory, which includes actions that have been learned and are performed somewhat below the conscious level — such as driving an automobile or tying a necktie — forms one category of long-term memory. The other category of long-term memory is declarative, which includes episodic and semantic memory.
Semantic memory refers to the part of memory that stores information people have learned, such as concepts, numerical processes, vocabulary, academic or work-related skills and facts. For information or skills to have reached a person’s semantic memory, which is part of their long-term memory, it must first go through their working memory, or short-term memory. Once they have processed the information in a significant way that involves them interacting with or developing a deeper understanding of it, it can then be stored in their long-term memory.
Episodic memory refers to life events that people remember. For one reason or another, people remember certain events that happen to them. They might be able to recall an embarrassing moment, because it was unique. An emotional or personally meaningful event, such as graduation from college or a breakup with a significant other, often is stored in episodic memory. People are usually able to remember the context — how they felt, the time and place, and other details — in which memories stored in their episodic memory occurred.
The information and memories contained in both episodic and semantic memory are able to proceed there because they are important in some way to the person who stores them. For information to be stored in a person’s semantic memory, there usually needs to be an emotional or personally meaningful connection. Information in semantic memory is usually stored there after the person has significantly interacted with it by, for example, using it or synthesizing it with other information.
Access to episodic and semantic memory is usually available to people, because the information contained therein is stored in their long-term memory. People use different strategies to access the information and memories in their long-term memory. They may have ready access to some of them. Other parts may require more thought. Sometimes information or recollections from peoples’ long-term memory may be triggered and brought to the surface by specific stimuli, such as a word, the way a certain place looks or a particular song.