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Abstract

The existence of multiple memory systems has been proposed in a number of areas, including cogni- tive psychology, neuropsychology, and the study of animal learning and memory. We examine whether the existence of such multiple systems seems likely on evolutionary grounds. Multiple sys- tems adapted to serve seemingly similar functions, which differ in important ways, are a common evolutionary outcome. The evolution of multiple memory systems requires memory systems to be specialized to such a degree that the functional problems each system handles cannot be handled by another system. We define this condition as functional incompatibility and show that it occurs for a number of the distinctions that have been proposed between memory systems. The distinction be- tween memory for song and memory for spatial locations in birds, and between incremental habit formation and memory for unique episodes in humans and other primates provide examples. Not all memory systems are highly specialized in function, however, and the conditions under which memory systems could evolve to serve a wide range of functions are also discussed. Memory is a function that permits animals and people to ac- quire, retain, and retrieve many different kinds of information. It allows them to take advantage of previous experience to help solve the multitude of problems with which their environment confronts them, such as how to recognize the familiar, predict events, return to particular places, and assess the consequences of behavior Recently the question has arisen as to whether the