Semantic Memory, what is it?

Semantic Memory, what is it?

When we enter the study of memory we realize that it is not a unique concept. In this article we will try the semantic memory. Some will be listening for the first time, others will hear the concept and others will know it. Usually memory is usually thought of as a single process. Phrases like, "Wow, what a bad memory I have," reflect this belief. But ... what kind of memory fails us when we say these statements?

When they tell us a phone number and we forget it, we usually say that we have a bad memory. But is this so? Surely we remember the country in which we live. We also remember our name and that of our acquaintances. What do we also remember our address?

There are innumerable aspects of life that we do not forget. This leads us to think that our memory works perfectly. Also, if you remember all this information about your life, you can be sure that you have a good semantic memory. Do you want to know more about this type of memory? Keep reading!


  • 1 Semantic Memory
  • 2 How is our relationship with objects formed?
  • 3 How is semantic memory studied and where is it located?

Semantic Memory

The semantic memory it's like a big trunk that contains All our information on the concepts related to the world and to ourselves. Inside this trunk we find everything we know: our name, that of our parents, the continents and all the information we have learned throughout our lives. This memory records concepts, meanings and facts They represent the world.

Semantic memory is a type of declarative memory and this is a kind of long term memory. The declarative memory gathers facts and knowledge and allows the consciously retrieving this information.

Within the declarative memory we also find the episodic memory. While episodic memory refers to our experiences, semantic memory is related to concepts. For example, remembering a trip is related to episodic memory. But remembering which country we have traveled to, where the country is, corresponds to semantic memory.

These two memories, despite being different, are quite related. Moreover, many studies still work to define them as well as possible. The relationship between them is that the information stored in semantic memory derives from episodic memory. When we learn concepts resulting from our interaction and action on them, knowledge takes place in a specific context with emotional charge.

There is a gradual transition from episodic memory to semantics through a process whereby episodic memory decreases its sensitivity and association to particular and emotional circumstances.

How is our relationship with objects formed?

Have you ever considered how our relationship is formed with an object, concept or symbol? This aspect is more complex and profound than it may seem. What would we answer if we were asked "what is a tablet"What would our best friend answer? Or what would someone born in 1800 answer to the same question? When they ask us to describe an object we attribute certain characteristics. For example, if two people are asked what characterizes a glass, they could answer:

  • Subject 1: bowl, glass, water, pills, cooking, food ...
  • Subject 2: bowl, glass, cubes, rum, cola, disco ...

Each subject gives us different explanations and all of them are valid. As Murphy (2003) states, "the meaning of a concept does not seem to emerge directly only from its intrinsic properties". That is, it is not a unique and static reality, but the formation of the concept is related to each subject. The meaning of an object arises from the facts related to the object, of intellectual and / or emotional relationships that we establish from our experience with him.

The information that gives meaning to an object, therefore, is a social, historical, linguistic and experiential construction. When we understand the meaning of a symbol it is not an intrinsic property, but arises as from a act of interpretation. Thus, the meaning is not static or permanent, since both people and communities modify it according to circumstances, needs, interests, ideologies or conveniences.

Since each person interprets a concept, object or symbol in a way and still we know what we are talking about, it can be said that a communication relationship between two people implies a act of interpretation and one negotiation of meanings.

Many of you may have asked yourself, what does someone from 1800 have to do with the tablet In all this? The answer is easy, as we have just seen, the formation of meaning also depends on the Historic moment in which we are. So if we asked that question to someone from that time, he would possibly answer: "I don't know":

How is semantic memory studied and where is it located?

It is usually studied through homework assignments. categorizationFor example, does cat belong to the animal category? Also through the phrase verificationIs a table a piece of furniture, right? Lexical decisionIs chair a word? OR named of drawings, for example, say the name of the object that represents a drawing. When naming the object, it is necessary to retrieve the information from the declarative memory without being associated to the moment in which it was learned.

This type of memory initially depends on the medial temporal lobe and more specifically on the left prefontal cortex (Head and Nyberg, 2000).


  • Bajo, T., Fuentes, L., Lupiáñez, J. and Rueda, R. (2016).Mind and brain. Alliance: Madrid.
  • Cabeza, T. and Nyberg, L. (2000). Neural bases of learning and memory: functional neuroimaging evidence. Current opinion in neurology, 13, (4), 415.
  • Nguyen, S. & Murphy, G. (2003). An Apple Is More than Just a Fruit: CrossClassification
    in Children's Concepts. Child Development, 74, 1783-1806.