Explicit memory is a type of long-term memory used to recall conscious thoughts about personal life, public events, and things you learned along the way.

a mother and daughter using explicit memory looking at family photosShare on Pinterest
Westend61/Getty Images

Explicit memory is used to recall details for tests, reminisce about past experiences, or cite important stats for work. In other words, it is used whenever you try to recall any detail you have ever learned or experienced.

Several issues can cause you to have trouble with memory. They range in severity from mild, like lack of sleep, to severe, like dementia.

Treating underlying health conditions can help improve memory. Self-help techniques are also available to help improve memory in daily life.

Explicit memory is a type of long-term memory that allows you to recall facts, details, or events you experience in your life.

Explicit memories get stored in several areas of the brain, including the neocortex and the hippocampus. Memory involves a complex interaction between different areas in the brain to store and retrieve information.

Types of explicit memory

Explicit memory includes two subtypes: episodic memory and semantic memory.

Episodic memory allows you to consciously recall specific events in your life. You can generally recall exactly when and where the event occurred or where you gained the information.

Episodic memory forms through a complex interaction between the neocortex, the parahippocampal regions, and the hippocampus (HPC). Experts consider the HPC the most important area responsible for storing this type of long term memory.

Semantic memory involves several areas of the brain that work together to store, retrieve, and assign meaning to various facts, events, and words.

Semantic memory differs slightly from episodic memory in that you likely will not remember the exact place and time you learned something.

Explicit memories involve recalling personal events or experiences as well as facts about the world in general.

Examples of semantic memory can include:

  • remembering details for a test, such as spelling, dates of events, or other facts learned
  • knowing what a map of the world looks like
  • recognizing letters or words
  • remembering grammatical rules

Examples of episodic memory can include:

  • remembering personal details about friends or family, such as marital status, birth date, and other information
  • recalling major historical events, such as important elections, protests, wars, or other events that occurred
  • remembering personal experiences or events, such as a first date, the first day of school, graduation, or getting hired for a job

To learn more about different types of long-term memory, consider visiting our page about implicit memory.

Explicit memory relies on several processes in the brain to work together.

A person living with dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, will slowly start to lose their memory as the disease progresses. Along with other symptoms associated with dementia, this can lead to life-altering disability.

Another condition that can affect explicit memory is called transient global amnesia (TGA). TGA is a temporary condition that lasts for less than 24 hours in which a person loses memory suddenly without other symptoms.

General aging can also affect memory, just not as severely as dementia. Some people develop mild cognitive impairment (MCI), where they develop more thinking and memory problems compared to other people their own age.

MCI is also mild compared to dementia. Most people with MCI can continue to live on their own with minimal or no assistance.

Other possible causes of memory issues besides typical aging or dementia can also occur. These types of explicit memory impairments typically clear or improve once the underlying cause is treated.

Some conditions that can lead to temporary memory issues include:

  • side effects of medications
  • tumors, blood clots, or infections in the brain
  • head injury, such as a concussion
  • drug or alcohol misuse
  • mental health conditions, such as anxiety or depression
  • difficulty with sleeping, such as lack of sleep or insomnia
  • thyroid, kidney, or liver problems
  • not eating enough healthy foods
  • low levels of certain nutrients, such as vitamin B12

When to seek support

Due to the potential of having an underlying health issue causing memory problems, you should consider talking with a doctor if you start experiencing one or more of the following:

  • getting lost in places you know well
  • having trouble following directions or a recipe
  • repairing the same question over and over again
  • becoming more confused about people, time, or places
  • not taking care of yourself, such as not bathing regularly or eating poorly
Was this helpful?

If you are having trouble remembering things easily, you can take steps to help improve your explicit memory.

Some general tips include:

  • getting regular exercise
  • eating a healthful diet
  • following a daily routine or schedule
  • learning a new skill
  • controlling or preventing high blood pressure
  • making to-do lists
  • using memory tools, such as calendars and notes, and plan out tasks
  • limiting or avoiding alcohol
  • putting important things, such as your keys and wallet, in the same place every day
  • volunteering in schools, the community, or places of worship
  • getting between 7 and 8 hours of sleep each night
  • seeking help if you feel depressed for several weeks at a time
  • spending time with friends and family

Explicit memory involves the ability to process, store, and recall personal experiences, historical events, and general facts about the world and others.

Explicit memory allows you to consciously recall facts so that you can use them throughout your day.

Several conditions and issues can affect your explicit memory, including lack of sleep, mental health conditions, and dementia.

Treatment for underlying conditions can often improve your memory. You can also take steps to help improve your memory by forming habits, such as:

  • eating healthy foods
  • learning new skills
  • getting regular exercise
  • getting enough sleep each night