The term “episodic memory” was introduced by Tulving to refer to what he considered a uniquely human capacity—the ability to recollect specific past events, to travel back into the past in one’s own mind—as distinct from the capacity simply to use information acquired through past experiences. Subsequently, Clayton et al. developed criteria to test for episodic memory in animals. According to these criteria, episodic memories are not of individual bits of information; they involve multiple components of a single event “bound” together. Clayton sought to examine evidence of scrub jays’ accurate memory of “what,” “where,” and “when” information and their binding of this information. In the wild, these birds store food for retrieval later during periods of food scarcity. Clayton’s experiment required jays to remember the type, location, and freshness of stored food based on a unique learning event. Crickets were stored in one location and peanuts in another. Jays prefer crickets, but crickets degrade more quickly. Clayton’s birds switched their preference from crickets to peanuts once the food had been stored for a certain length of time, showing that they retain information about the what, the where, and the when. Such experiments cannot, however, reveal whether the birds were reexperiencing the past when retrieving the information. Clayton acknowledged this by using the term “episodic-like” memory.
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