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In their target article, Mahr and Csibra argue that event and episodic memories share the same scenario construction process. I think this way of carving up the distinction throws the baby out with the bathwater. If there is a substantive difference between event and episodic memory, it is based on a difference in the construction process and how they are organized respectively.
Behavioral and Brain Sciences
Commentary on Mahr and Csibra: Carving Event and Episodic Memory at Their Joints
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Full Title: Commentary on Mahr and Csibra: Carving Event and Episodic Memory at Their Joints
Short Title: Carving Event and Episodic Memory at Their Joints
Article Type: Commentary Article
Corresponding Author: Nazim Keven, Ph.D
Bilkent University
Corresponding Author Secondary
Corresponding Author's Institution: Bilkent University
Corresponding Author's Secondary
First Author: Nazim Keven, Ph.D
First Author Secondary Information:
Order of Authors: Nazim Keven, Ph.D
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Abstract: Mahr and Csibra argue that event and episodic memories share the same scenario
construction process. I think this way of carving up the distinction throws the baby out
with the bathwater. If there is a substantive difference between event and episodic
memory, it is based on a difference in the construction process and how they are
organized respectively.
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Commentary on Mahr and Csibra
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Carving Event and Episodic Memory at Their Joints
Nazim Keven
Department of Philosophy, Bilkent University
Full institutional mailing address:
Department of Philosophy
Bilkent University
Turkey 06800
Phone: +90 533 4681092
Abstract: Mahr and Csibra argue that event and episodic memories share the same scenario
construction process. I think this way of carving up the distinction throws the baby out with the
bathwater. If there is a substantive difference between event and episodic memory, it is based on a
difference in the construction process and how they are organized respectively.
In the target article, Mahr and Csibra challenge overly cognitive accounts of episodic memory
based on the mental time travel metaphor. Instead, they offer a social-cognitive function of episodic
memory in terms of an epistemic attitude that signals testimonial authority in human
communications. I applaud the proposed shift in focus towards the social-cognitive functions of
episodic memory and I suspect that Mahr & Csibra's suggestion may not be the only function of
episodic memory in the social domain.
Commentary Article Click here to download Commentary Article Mahr Csibra Com
Mahr and Csibra also propose a distinction between event and episodic memory. As they mention,
and as I have argued else where (Keven 2016), the distinction has the potential to resolve the long
lasting debate about whether episodic memory is a uniquely human capacity. If the distinction is
proven to be robust, we can understand the mnemonic abilities of young children and non-human
animals with event memory without ascribing them a capacity for full-blown episodic memory.
However, it is not clear how to distinguish event and episodic memory at this stage. Mahr and
Csibra suggest that event and episodic memory share the same scenario construction process,
whereas I think the type of construction involved in episodic memory is different in kind from that
of event memory.
We can distinguish at least four different types of organization that could be utilized in memory
1. Spatial Organization: We perceive the world in a spatially organized way and can recall our
experiences as such.
2. Temporal Organization: Experiences occur sequentially in time such as before or after
another event. When we reconstruct an experience from memory, the events should occur in their
proper place in the sequence.
3. Causal Organization: Events can be distant in time and yet can have causal connections
with each other. I remember that I missed my bus to Istanbul because my alarm didn’t ring. Missing
the bus and the malfunctioning alarm clock are two temporally distant events that are causally
connected in my memory reconstruction.
4. Teleological Organization: Temporally distant and causally disparate events can still be
connected with each other based on goals. For instance, I remember that I was going to give a talk
when I missed the bus, so I took a plane instead to get there in time. Although giving a talk is
temporally distant and causally disparate from the malfunctioning alarm clock and missing the bus,
it is still connected to them in my memory as my goal at the time.
In Mahr and Csibra’s view, both event and episodic memory involve construction of a scenario that
involves simulation of events that are extended in time and space. It is not clear whether these
simulations involve all of these four types of organization. If they want to maintain that young
children and other non-human animals have event memories, however, then there has to be some
differences in the construction of event and episodic memories. Even though there is some evidence
that nonhuman animals can be sensitive to temporal information (e.g. Clayton and Dickinson 1998;
Babb and Crystal 2006), it is far from clear whether this amounts to an ability to temporally
sequence events into before/after relations (McCormack and Hoerl 2011; Roberts and Feeney
2009). Moreover, causal understanding of our primate cousins is very limited and no nonhuman
animals seem to understand the behavior of others in terms of goals (Povinelli 2000; Penn and
Povinelli 2007; Penn et al. 2008; Visalberghi and Tomasello 1998; Tomasello et al. 2005). Similarly,
young children show less temporal sequence knowledge and omit causal relations between events in
their recall of novel experiences; and, their memory representations are not organized around goals
to the same extent as are older children’s and adults (e.g. Price and Goodman 1990; Ratner et al.
1986). So, it is unlikely that event memories in young children and nonhuman animals can involve
temporal, causal and teleological organization.
In my previous work (Keven 2016), I provided evidence and argued to carve up event and episodic
memory in a different way. According to the dual systems thesis that I proposed, event memory is a
snapshot like memory system based on perceptual processes predominantly in the form of visual
images. These perceptually grounded representations are highly accurate but short-lived. Construed
as such, event memories only involve spatial organization. Any other type of organization is not
necessary in this case as there are no series of events that are extended in space and time.
On the other hand, construction of episodic memories requires a higher order inferential process.
Episodes generally consist of a series of events that are extended across different times and places.
When I remember the missing-the-bus episode, I don’t remember all the minute details involved in
the actual experience, I only remember the causally and teleologically relevant ones in the right
temporal order. In order to connect such a series of events, the construction process needs to sort the
events into cause/effect and goal/attempt/outcome relations besides keeping track of each scenes’
spatial structure and the events’ temporal order. Organizing memories in this way requires making
higher order inferences on the relations between events from memory as these relations are not
directly observable. According to the dual systems thesis, this inferential process is closely tied to
our storytelling capacity and narrative has nearly all the organizational components one would
expect. Reconstructing a narrative version of the experience provides the required temporal, causal
and teleological organization. As such, episodic memories are low in accuracy but can span longer
timescales and are more memorable.
To sum up, when we consider different types of organization that can be utilized in memory
reconstructions, construction of event and episodic memories differ in kind. In particular, the
construction of episodic memories require a higher order inferential process, which is unlikely to be
found in event memories.
Babb, S. J., & Crystal, J. D. (2006). Episodic-like memory in the rat. Current Biology, 16(13),
Clayton, N. S., & Dickinson, A. (1998). Episodic-like memory during cache recovery by scrub jays.
Nature, 395(6699), 272274.
Keven, N. (2016). Events, Narratives and Memory. Synthese, 193(8), 24972517.
McCormack, T., & Hoerl, C. (2011). Tool use, planning and future thinking in children and animals.
In T. McCormack, C. Hoerl, & S. Butterfill (Eds.), Tool use and causal cognition (p. 129). Oxford:
Oxford University Press.
Penn, D. C., & Povinelli, D. J. (2007). Causal cognition in human and nonhuman animals: A
comparative, critical review. Annual Review of Psychology, 58(1), 97118.
Penn, D. C., Holyoak, K. J., & Povinelli, D. J. (2008). Darwin’s mistake: Explaining the
discontinuity between human and nonhuman minds. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 31(02), 109
Povinelli, D. J. (2000). Folk physics for apes: The chimpanzee’s theory of how the world works.
Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Price, D. W. W., & Goodman, G. S. (1990). Visiting the wizard: Children’s memory for a recurring
event. Child Development, 61(3), 664680.
Ratner, H. H., Smith, B. S., & Dion, S. A. (1986). Development of memory for events. Journal of
Experimental Child Psychology, 41(3), 411428.
Roberts, W. A., & Feeney, M. C. (2009). The comparative study of mental time travel. Trends in
Cognitive Sciences, 13(6), 271277.
Tomasello, M., Carpenter, M., Call, J., Behne, T., & Moll, H. (2005). Understanding and sharing
intentions: The origins of cultural cognition. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 28(05), 675691.
Visalberghi, E., & Tomasello, M. (1998). Primate causal understanding in the physical and
psychological domains. Behavioural Processes, 42(23), 189203.
... Another characteristic feature of EM is that it tends to reflect a temporal order of events (i.e., what happened first, second, next, later; Aronowitz, 2018). It is also causal because it connects causal events in memory (e.g., I missed the bus because my alarm clock didn't go off; Keven, 2018), and it is teleological in that it usually encodes information about our goals (e.g., the talk I was giving was important and I really wanted to do a good job). ...
Purpose Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) work with a variety of populations at risk for poor autobiographical and episodic memory. The purpose of this tutorial is to describe autobiographical memory and how it is affected in children with autism spectrum disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, hearing loss, and childhood trauma, as well as provide clinicians with practical strategies for supporting autobiographical memory in each of these clinical populations. Method This tutorial reviews the literature on (a) autobiographical and episodic memory in typical development; (b) its relation to theory of mind, personal narrative skills, and executive functions; (c) elaborative reminiscing in typical development; (d) how autobiographical memory is impaired in children with autism spectrum disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, hearing loss, and childhood trauma; and (e) strategies for supporting autobiographical memory in each clinical population. Conclusions When adequately prepared, SLPs are uniquely situated to address autobiographical and episodic memory in their work with children, families, and related professionals. This is a long-overdue focus of such great clinical import that justifies its inclusion in the traditional training and preparation of SLPs. Adapting elaborative reminiscing strategies for use with various clinical populations is promising for facilitating healthy EM development and related cognitive functions.
This commentary construes the relation between the two systems of temporal updating and temporal reasoning as a bifurcation and tracks it across three time scales: phylogeny, ontogeny, and microgeny. In taking a dynamic systems approach, flexibility, as mentioned by Hoerl & McCormack, is revealed as the key characteristic of human temporal cognition.
Hoerl & McCormack argue that animals cannot represent past situations and subsume animals’ memory-like representations within a model of the world. I suggest calling these memory-like representations as what they are without beating around the bush. I refer to them as event memories and explain how they are different from episodic memory and how they can guide action in animal cognition.
Hoerl & McCormack propose that animals learn sequences through an entrainment-like process, rather than tracking the temporal addresses of each event in a given sequence. However, past research suggests that animals form “temporal maps” of sequential events and also comprehend the concept of ordinal position. These findings suggest that a clarification or qualification of the authors’ hypothesis is needed.
Based on the notion that time, space, and number are part of a generalized magnitude system, we assume that the dual-systems approach to temporal cognition also applies to numerical cognition. Referring to theoretical models of the development of numerical concepts, we propose that children's early skills in processing numbers can be described analogously to temporal updating and temporal reasoning.
Hoerl & McCormack (H&M) discuss the possible function of meta-representations in temporal cognition but ultimately take an agnostic stance. Here we outline the fundamental role that we believe meta-representations play. Because humans know that their representations of future events are just representations, they are in a position to compensate for the shortcomings of their own foresight and to prepare for multiple contingencies.
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We focus on three main sets of topics emerging from the commentaries on our target article. First, we discuss several types of animal behavior that commentators cite as evidence against our claim that animals are restricted to temporal updating and cannot engage in temporal reasoning. In doing so, we illustrate further how explanations of behavior in terms of temporal updating work. Second, we respond to commentators' queries about the developmental process through which children acquire a capacity for temporal reasoning and about the relation between our account and accounts drawing similar distinctions in other domains of cognition. Finally, we address some broader theoretical issues arising from the commentaries, concerning in particular the question as to how our account relates to the phenomenology of experience in time, and the question as to whether our dichotomy between temporal reasoning and temporal updating is exhaustive, or whether there might be other forms of cognition or representation related to time not captured by it.
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Whether non-human animals can have episodic memories remains the subject of extensive debate. A number of prominent memory researchers defend the view that animals do not have the same kind of episodic memory as humans do, whereas others argue that some animals have episodic-like memory—i.e., they can remember what, where and when an event happened. Defining what constitutes episodic memory has proven to be difficult. In this paper, I propose a dual systems account and provide evidence for a distinction between event memory and episodic memory. Event memory is a perceptual system that evolved to support adaptive short-term goal processing, whereas episodic memory is based on narratives, which bind event memories into a retrievable whole that is temporally and causally organized around subject’s goals. I argue that carefully distinguishing event memory from episodic memory can help resolve the debate.
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In this article, we review some of the most provocative experimental results to have emerged from comparative labs in the past few years, starting with research focusing on contingency learning and finishing with experiments exploring nonhuman animals' understanding of causal-logical relations. Although the theoretical explanation for these results is often inchoate, a clear pattern nevertheless emerges. The comparative evidence does not fit comfortably into either the traditional associationist or inferential alternatives that have dominated comparative debate for many decades now. Indeed, the similarities and differences between human and nonhuman causal cognition seem to be much more multifarious than these dichotomous alternatives allow.
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We propose that the crucial difference between human cognition and that of other species is the ability to participate with others in collaborative activities with shared goals and intentions: shared intentionality. Participation in such activities requires not only especially powerful forms of intention reading and cultural learning, but also a unique motivation to share psychological states with others and unique forms of cognitive representation for doing so. The result of participating in these activities is species-unique forms of cultural cognition and evolution, enabling everything from the creation and use of linguistic symbols to the construction of social norms and individual beliefs to the establishment of social institutions. In support of this proposal we argue and present evidence that great apes (and some children with autism) understand the basics of intentional action, but they still do not participate in activities involving joint intentions and attention (shared intentionality). Human children's skills of shared intentionality develop gradually during the first 14 months of life as two ontogenetic pathways intertwine: (1) the general ape line of understanding others as animate, goal-directed, and intentional agents; and (2) a species-unique motivation to share emotions, experience, and activities with other persons. The developmental outcome is children's ability to construct dialogic cognitive representations, which enable them to participate in earnest in the collectivity that is human cognition.
From an early age, humans know a surprising amount about basic physical principles, such as gravity, force, mass, and shape. We can see this in the way that young children play and manipulate objects around them. The same behavior has long been observed in primates - chimpanzees have been shown to possess a remarkable ability to make and use simple tools. But what does this tell us about their inner mental state - do they therefore share the same understanding to that of a young child? Do they understand the simple, underlying physical principles involved? Though some people would say that they do, this book reports groundbreaking research that questions whether this really is the case. Challenging the assumptions so often made about apes, it offers us a rare glimpse into the workings of another mind, examining how apes perceive and understand the physical world - an understanding that appears to be both similar to, and yet profoundly different from our own.
This chapter considers in what sense, if any, planning and future thinking is involved both in the sort of behaviour examined by McCarty et al. (1999) and in the sort of behaviour measured by researchers creating versions of Tulving's spoon test. It argues that mature human planning and future thinking involves a particular type of temporal cognition, and that there are reasons to be doubtful as to whether either of those two approaches actually assesses this type of cognition. To anticipate, it argues that there is a commonsense notion of planning according to which planning involves event-independent thought about time. It also argues that thinking about the future involves the ability to think about the potential temporal locations of events within a linear temporal framework in which temporal locations are unique rather than repeated.
Evidence for primates' understanding of causality is presented and discussed. Understanding causality requires the organism to understand not just that two events are associated with one another in space and time, but also that there is some `mediating force' that binds the two events to one another which may be used to predict or control those events (e.g. a physical force such as gravity or a psychological force such as an intention). In the physical domain, studies of tool use indicate that capuchin monkeys do not have a causal understanding of the functioning of tools in terms of the physical forces involved, but rather they learn to associate aspects of their own behavior with the results it produces. Apes show some possible signs of understanding the causal relations involved in tool use in the sense that they may employ various forms of foresight in approaching novel tasks, perhaps involving an understanding of physical forces—although not to the extent of human children. In the psychological domain, nonhuman primates understand conspecifics as animate beings that generate their own behavior and, thus, they appreciate that to manipulate conspecifics communicative signals, and not physical activities, are required. However, there is very little evidence that nonhuman primates of any species understand others as psychological beings with intentions and other psychological states that mediate their behavioral interactions with the world—as human children begin to do sometime during their second year of life. More research, using a wider range of problem-solving situations, is needed if we are to become more precise in our understanding of how primates understand the causal structure of the world around them.
The development of event memory is examined here to determine how personally experienced events with two types of structure are reported by kindergartners and adults. Subjects participated individually in two standardized events involving making and playing with clay. The first was organized causally; the second, temporally. Descriptions of these events were examined in interviews conducted for some subjects immediately after the event and for all, a week later. The reports of both children and adults suggested use of a goal-based hierarchical structure to remember events, although use of the structure seemed more fragile for children than adults. The causal structure of the events influenced the amount of information reported. These results were discussed with respect to possible developmental paths in the formation of generalized event representations, or scripts.
People regularly travel through time mentally to remember and reconstruct past events and to anticipate and plan future events. We suggest that a bi-cone structure best describes human mental time travel (MTT) abilities. Experiments with scrub-jays, rats and non-human primates have investigated whether MTT is uniquely human by examining the abilities of these animals to remember what, where and when an event occurred and to anticipate future events. We argue that animal memory for when an event happened must be distinguished from memory for how long ago it happened to properly evaluate parallels with human capabilities. Similarly, tests of future MTT in animals must show that they are planning for a specific time in the future to demonstrate qualitative comparability with human MTT.
The development of children's scripts for a recurring event was examined. 24 girls--2.5, 4, and 5.5 years of age--repeatedly experienced an initially novel episode (a trip to the "wizard's room") in a laboratory setting. Based on parents' ratings, the episode was defined as consisting of 26 actions organized into 7 activities. The sequential, spatial, and causal relations among the activities remained constant across episodes. Each child's knowledge of the recurring event was assessed by 4 probe conditions: free recall, prop reenactment, in-context reenactment, and in-context deviations. Results support conclusions that during early stages of script formation: (a) more actions and activities are included with age in children's scripts, (b) causally related activities are sequenced at all ages but temporal ordering is age-related, (c) hierarchical organization of actions within activities emerges gradually over the preschool years, and (d) probe conditions strongly influence performance for the younger but not for the older children.
The recollection of past experiences allows us to recall what a particular event was, and where and when it occurred, a form of memory that is thought to be unique to humans. It is known, however, that food-storing birds remember the spatial location and contents of their caches. Furthermore, food-storing animals adapt their caching and recovery strategies to the perishability of food stores, which suggests that they are sensitive to temporal factors. Here we show that scrub jays (Aphelocoma coerulescens) remember 'when' food items are stored by allowing them to recover perishable 'wax worms' (wax-moth larvae) and non-perishable peanuts which they had previously cached in visuospatially distinct sites. Jays searched preferentially for fresh wax worms, their favoured food, when allowed to recover them shortly after caching. However, they rapidly learned to avoid searching for worms after a longer interval during which the worms had decayed. The recovery preference of jays demonstrates memory of where and when particular food items were cached, thereby fulfilling the behavioural criteria for episodic-like memory in non-human animals.