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Verified by Psychology Today

Semantic memory is a form of long-term memory that comprises a person’s knowledge about the world. Along with episodic memory, it is considered a kind of explicit memory, because a person is consciously aware of the facts, meanings, and other information that it contains.

How We Use Semantic Memory

Semantic memory is key to understanding and describing how everything around us works. Collected over each person’s lifetime of learning, the information in semantic memory—facts, relationships between objects or concepts, and many more abstract details—is invaluable to everyone from kindergartners to gameshow contestants.

What are some examples of semantic memory?

The information contained in semantic memory ranges from basic facts such as the meanings of words and what colors different kinds of food are to more complex forms of understanding, such as how certain concepts relate to each other. Semantic memory also reflects the abstract details of one’s own life, such as birth date, hometown, or personal characteristics.

Why is semantic memory important?

Semantic memory isn’t just a library of trivia: In compiling a vast range of meanings, details about the way things are, and conceptual linkages, it enables one to learn about the world and other people, to use language and share ideas, and to interpret personal experiences, among other important behaviors.

How Semantic Memory Works

The base of knowledge contained in semantic memory is accumulated through many moments of learning, from picking up the basics of language in early childhood to grasping complex ideas and systems in class, in conversations, or while reading books. While few of these moments of learning will remain with us as scenes in episodic memory, our brains collect the abstract insights to help us answer questions, communicate, and solve problems in the future.

Where is semantic memory in the brain?

The medial temporal lobe, which includes the hippocampus, appears to play a role in the creation of semantic memories, they are ultimately thought to be stored throughout the neocortex—and other areas of the brain are likely involved in the process of retrieving semantic memories.

How does semantic memory change with age?

Semantic memory ability seems to develop earlier in childhood than episodic memory (the memory for personal experiences). In older age, it tends to decline, on average, but remains more stable than episodic memory.