More than a feeling: Pervasive influences of memory without awareness of retrieval

Joel L. Voss, Heather D. Lucas, Ken A. Paller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

88 Scopus citations


The subjective experiences of recollection and familiarity have featured prominently in the search for neurocognitive mechanisms of memory. However, these two explicit expressions of memory, which involve conscious awareness of memory retrieval, are distinct from an entire category of implicit expressions of memory that do not entail such awareness. This review summarizes recent evidence showing that neurocognitive processing related to implicit memory can powerfully influence the behavioral and neural measures typically associated with explicit memory. Although there are striking distinctions between the neurocognitive processing responsible for implicit versus explicit memory, tests designed to measure only explicit memory nonetheless often capture implicit memory processing as well. In particular, the evidence described here suggests that investigations of familiarity memory are prone to the accidental capture of implicit memory processing. These findings have considerable implications for neurocognitive accounts of memory, as they suggest that many neural and behavioral measures often accepted as signals of explicit memory instead reflect the distinct operation of implicit memory mechanisms that are only sometimes related to explicit memory expressions. Proper identification of the explicit and implicit mechanisms for memory is vital to understanding the normal operation of memory, in addition to the disrupted memory capabilities associated with many neurological disorders and mental illnesses. We suggest that future progress requires utilizing neural, behavioral, and subjective evidence to dissociate implicit and explicit memory processing so as to better understand their distinct mechanisms as well as their potential relationships. When searching for the neurocognitive mechanisms of memory, it is important to keep in mind that memory involves more than a feeling.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)193-207
Number of pages15
JournalCognitive Neuroscience
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Aug 2012


  • Awareness
  • Explicit memory
  • Familiarity
  • Implicit memory
  • Recollection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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