Episodic memory in primates



Episodic memory refers to a system of memory with the capacity to recollect specific events from an individual’s life. Some psychologists have suggested that episodic memory is a uniquely human phenomenon. We challenge that idea and present evidence that great apes and other primates may possess episodic-like memory. We review criteria developed to assess episodic-like memory in nonhumans, and how they apply to primates. In particular, we discuss the criteria of Clayton et al. [2001], who stated that episodic-like memory is based on the retrieval of multiple and integrated components of an event. We then review eight studies examining memory in great apes and apply the Clayton et al. criteria to each of them. We summarize the evidence that is compatible with the existence of episodic-like memory, although none of the data completely satisfy the Clayton et al. criteria. Morover, feelings of pastness and feelings of confidence, which mark episodic memory in humans, have not been empirically addressed in nonhuman primates. Future studies should be directed at these aspects of memory in primates. We speculate on the functional significance of episodic memory in nonhuman primates. Am. J. Primatol. 55:71–85, 2001. © 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.