Distance- rather than location-based temporal judgements are more accurate during episodic recall in a real-world task

Maneesh Varghese Kuruvilla, Akira R. O'Connor, James A. Ainge*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Definitions of episodic memory typically emphasise the importance of spatiotemporal frameworks in the contextual reconstruction of episodic retrieval. However, our ability to retrieve specific temporal contexts of experienced episodes is poor. This has bearing on the prominence of temporal context in the definition and evaluation of episodic memory, particularly among non-human animals. Studies demonstrating that rats rely on elapsed time (distance) rather than specific timestamps (location) to disambiguate events have been used to suggest that human episodic memory is qualitatively different to other species. We examined whether humans were more accurate using a distance- or location-based method for judging when an event happened. Participants (n = 57) were exposed to a series of events and then asked either when (e.g., 1:03 pm) or how long ago (HLA; e.g., 33 min) a specific event took place. HLA judgements were significantly more accurate, particularly for the most recently experienced episode. Additionally, a significantly higher proportion of participants making HLA judgements accurately recalled non-temporal episodic features across all episodes. Finally, for participants given the choice of methods for making temporal judgements, a significantly higher proportion chose to use HLA judgements. These findings suggest that human and non-human temporal judgements are not qualitatively different.
Original languageEnglish
VolumeLatest Articles
Early online date25 Jun 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 25 Jun 2020


  • Human episodic memory
  • Episodic-like memory
  • Passive encoding
  • Temporal estimation
  • Mental time travel


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