Semantic Memory and the Hippocampus: Revisiting, Reaffirming, and Extending the Reach of Their Critical Relationship

Melissa C. Duff, Natalie V. Covington, Caitlin Hilverman, Neal J. Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

77 Scopus citations


Since Tulving proposed a distinction in memory between semantic and episodic memory, considerable effort has been directed towards understanding their similar and unique features. Of particular interest has been the extent to which semantic and episodic memory have a shared dependence on the hippocampus. In contrast to the definitive evidence for the link between hippocampus and episodic memory, the role of the hippocampus in semantic memory has been a topic of considerable debate. This debate stems, in part, from highly variable reports of new semantic memory learning in amnesia ranging from profound impairment to full preservation, and various degrees of deficit and ability in between. More recently, a number of significant advances in experimental methods have occurred, alongside new provocative data on the role of the hippocampus in semantic memory, making this an ideal moment to revisit this debate, to re-evaluate data, methods, and theories, and to synthesize new findings. In line with these advances, this review has two primary goals. First, we provide a historical lens with which to reevaluate and contextualize the literature on semantic memory and the hippocampus. The second goal of this review is to provide a synthesis of new findings on the role of the hippocampus and semantic memory. With the perspective of time and this critical review, we arrive at the interpretation that the hippocampus does indeed make necessary contributions to semantic memory. We argue that semantic memory, like episodic memory, is a highly flexible, (re)constructive, relational and multimodal system, and that there is value in developing methods and materials that fully capture this depth and richness to facilitate comparisons to episodic memory. Such efforts will be critical in addressing questions regarding the cognitive and neural (inter)dependencies among forms of memory, and the role that these forms of memory play in support of cognition more broadly. Such efforts also promise to advance our understanding of how words, concepts, and meaning, as well as episodes and events, are instantiated and maintained in memory and will yield new insights into our two most quintessentially human abilities: memory and language.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number471
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
StatePublished - Jan 24 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Copyright © 2020 Duff, Covington, Hilverman and Cohen.


  • episodic
  • hippocampus
  • language
  • memory
  • methods
  • semantic


Dive into the research topics of 'Semantic Memory and the Hippocampus: Revisiting, Reaffirming, and Extending the Reach of Their Critical Relationship'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this