A number of psychologists have suggested that episodic memory is a uniquely human phenomenon and, until recently, there was little evidence that animals could recall a unique past experience and respond appropriately. Experiments on food–caching memory in scrub jays question this assumption. On the basis of a single caching episode, scrub jays can remember when and where they cached a variety of foods that differ in the rate at which they degrade, in a way that is inexplicable by relative familiarity. They can update their memory of the contents of a cache depending on whether or not they have emptied the cache site, and can also remember where another bird has hidden caches, suggesting that they encode rich representations of the caching event. They make temporal generalizations about when perishable items should degrade and also remember the relative time since caching when the same food is cached in distinct sites at different times. These results show that jays form integrated memories for the location, content and time of caching. This memory capability fulfils Tulving's behavioural criteria for episodic memory and is thus termed ‘episodic–like’. We suggest that several features of episodic memory may not be unique to humans.

Royal Society Login

Log in through your institution