Semantic Memory: Examples & Definition

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  • 0:00 What Is Semantic Memory?
  • 1:15 What Affects Semantic Memory
  • 2:05 Why Is Semantic Memory…
  • 3:07 Episodic Memory
  • 3:54 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

Semantic memory is one of the two types of declarative memory. Learn about the importance of semantic memory, how it differs from episodic memory, and more.

What Is Semantic Memory?

Imagine that you're sitting in your college psychology class. Your professor asks the class to define 'psychology.' You raise your hand and tell your professor that psychology is the scientific study of the human mind and behavior. Your professor tells you that you're correct! How did you know the answer? Maybe you'd read it in a book or studied it online. You retained the information, waiting for the moment it might be useful. The definition of 'psychology' is an example of the type of information stored in semantic memory.

Semantic memory contains all of the general knowledge about our world that we accumulated throughout our lives. General knowledge such as facts, ideas, meanings, and concepts related to our world are stored in semantic memory. Semantic memory is one of the two kinds of declarative memory. The kinds of things stored in declarative memory can be consciously recalled, like facts and language. Memories that are usually recalled unconsciously, like the motor skills for riding a bike, are stored in procedural memory instead.

Specific examples of things we store in semantic memory might include:

  • Historical knowledge, like who won the Civil War
  • Scholastic concepts like reading and math
  • The definition of words we use in conversation
  • Geographical knowledge

What Affects Semantic Memory

One of the things all of these examples have in common is that you don't have to experience them to learn and remember them. Semantic memory is not dependent upon personal experience or even a specific event. For example, we know that London is a city in the United Kingdom even though many of us have never been there.

That's not to say that everyone's semantic memory is the same; in fact, our individual communities and surroundings have a great impact upon our semantic memories. You could say that semantic memory is dependent upon the owner's culture. For example, a game of football in the United States refers to one specific sport. However in other countries, like Australia and Ireland, for instance, a game of football can refer to several different sports that involve kicking a ball. Which culture we're surrounded with growing up will affect the connections we make in semantic memory.

Why Is Semantic Memory Important?

So why exactly is semantic memory important? Let's look at a simple example.

  • The concept of numbers: If someone were to ask you what 2 plus 2 equals, you would probably say '4' without giving it much thought. In order to answer this question, you must comprehend not only the meaning of the number 2, but the concept of addition. These meanings and concepts are a part of your semantic memory.

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