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Learning, and hence memory, is ubiquitous not only throughout the animal kingdom, but apparently throughout many regions of the brain. Is all learning reducible to a single common form? Neuropsychological dissociations suggest that the mammalian brain possesses a number of different and potentially independent memory systems, with different mechanisms and anatomical dispositions, some of which are neurally widely dispersed and others of which are narrowly organized. Among the types considered are: (i) short-term memory; (ii) knowledge and skills; (iii) stable associative memory; (iv) event memory; and (v) priming. As double or multiple dissociations do not lead to logically inevitable conclusions, it has been argued that an alternative to multiple memory systems is variable modes of processing. But these, too, would be dissociable on the same lines of evidence. Dissociations, if strong and absolute, have strong pragmatic power when they are combined with evolutionary and neuroscientific evidence. Multiple memory systems may possibly share some common cellular mechanisms, but such mechanisms do not define the separate properties at the systems level.

Original publication




Journal article


Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci

Publication Date





99 - 108


Amnesia, Animals, Humans, Learning, Memory