In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Implicit versus Explicit Memory

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Review Papers
  • Developmental Dissociations between Implicit Memory and Explicit Memory
  • Neurological Dissociations between Implicit Memory and Explicit Memory
  • Neuroimaging Dissociations between Implicit Memory and Explicit Memory
  • Theoretical Accounts of Implicit and Explicit Memory
  • Current Developments in Implicit Memory

Psychology Implicit versus Explicit Memory
Reza Habib, Alicia Olechowski
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 May 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0190


One of the most significant discoveries in the scientific study of human memory is that memory is not unitary. This was noted by William James over a hundred years ago when he spoke of primary and secondary memory. In the 21st century, primary and secondary memory are referred to as short-term or working memory and long-term memory, respectively. More recently, within the past fifty years, important discoveries have led to the fractionation of long-term memory into various systems, processes, and states of awareness. The focus of the present review is the distinction between implicit and explicit memory. When most people think about long-term memory, they think about explicit memory: memory that requires effort to retrieve and is retrieved consciously (e.g., “What did you do this past weekend?”). Implicit memory, on the other hand, reflects transfer from past experiences to the present moment in the absence of either effortful retrieval or conscious awareness; often the experiences prime present performance automatically and without awareness, such as when a musician plays a well-practiced piece of music.

General Overviews

Many books have been written on the topics of implicit and explicit memory. Schacter 1996 and Schacter 2001 are two popular nonfiction titles on implicit and explicit memory. Undergraduate texts by Neath and Surprenant 2003 and Eichenbaum 2008 introduce various aspects of memory, including implicit and explicit memory. The edited volumes by Lewandowsky, et al. 1989 and Marsolek and Bowers 2003 focus on implicit memory, whereas the edited volumes by Roediger and Craik 1989 and Tulving and Craik 2000 cover memory broadly. Finally, Tulving 1983 describes in detail the theory of episodic memory, the memory system hypothesized to underlie explicit memory. Together, these volumes present a comprehensive overview of implicit and explicit memory.

  • Eichenbaum, H. 2008. Learning & memory. New York: W. W. Norton.

    This textbook presents an interdisciplinary introduction to conscious (episodic/semantic) and unconscious (implicit/procedural) forms of memory based on contemporary human and non-human animal research.

  • Lewandowsky, S., J. C. Dunn, and K. Kirsner. 1989. Implicit memory: Theoretical issues. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

    This edited volume, based on proceedings of a conference on implicit memory, contains articles that consider the characteristics of implicit memories, the nature of their underlying representations, and theories and models to account for implicit memories.

  • Marsolek, C. J., and J. S. Bowers. 2003. Rethinking implicit memory. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    This edited volume presents a more quantitative-theoretical perspective on implicit memory, focusing on priming within the context of word and object recognition and explicitly contrasting the memory systems and processing views.

  • Neath, I., and A. e. M. Surprenant. 2003. Human memory: An introduction to research, data, and theory. Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth.

    This textbook presents a comprehensive overview of topics in human memory with a focus toward processing theories of memory.

  • Roediger, H. L., III, and F. I. M. Craik. 1989. Varieties of memory and consciousness: Essays in honour of Endel Tulving. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

    This Festschrift broadly covers topics in explicit and implicit memory, including several important chapters discussing the relation and dissociations between these two forms of memory.

  • Schacter, D. L. 1996. Searching for memory: The brain, the mind, and the past. New York: Basic Books.

    A popular book by one of the leading memory researchers. Presents an accessible introduction to to the topic of explicit and implicit memory.

  • Schacter, D. L. 2001. The seven sins of memory: How the mind forgets and remembers. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

    Another popular book on human memory targeting a general audience. Presents research on memory from the perspective of seven “sins”—or failings—of everyday memory.

  • Tulving, E. 1983. Elements of episodic memory. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    This book is by one of the preeminent experts on human memory. Tulving discusses the distinction between episodic and semantic memory and presents research on encoding and retrieval of memories.

  • Tulving, E., and F. I. M. Craik. 2000. The Oxford handbook of memory. Oxford and New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    The chapters in this handbook of memory present a comprehensive overview of memory as studied in the laboratory as well as in naturalistic environment. Several chapters also discuss the neurobiology of memory as well as theories to account for different types of memory.

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