What, where and when: deconstructing memory

Rachael Marshall, T.Andrew Hurly, Jenny Sturgeon, David Michael Shuker, Susan Denise Healy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)
5 Downloads (Pure)


The ability of animals to remember the what, where and when of a unique past event is used as an animal equivalent to human episodic memory. We currently view episodic memory as reconstructive, with an event being remembered in the context in which it took place. Importantly, this means that the components of a what, where, when memory task should be dissociable (e. g. what would be remembered to a different degree than when). We tested this hypothesis by training hummingbirds to a memory task, where the location of a reward was specified according to colour (what), location (where), and order and time of day (when). Although hummingbirds remembered these three pieces of information together more often than expected, there was a hierarchy as to how they were remembered. When seemed to be the hardest to remember, while errors relating to what were more easily corrected. Furthermore, when appears to have been encoded as a combination of time of day and sequence information. As hummingbirds solved this task using reconstruction of different memory components (what, where and when), we suggest that similar deconstructive approaches may offer a useful way to compare episodic and episodic-like memories.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20132194
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1772
Early online date9 Oct 2013
Publication statusPublished - 7 Dec 2013


  • cognition
  • hummingbird
  • what-where-when
  • memory reconstruction
  • episodic-like memory
  • Hummingbirds Selasphorus-Rufus
  • Episodic-Like Memory
  • Mental Time-Travel
  • Rufous Hummingbirds
  • Spatial Memory
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Constructive Memory
  • Field-Test
  • Flowers
  • Recall


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