Context-dependent memory

Context-dependent memory is a psychological phenomenon that refers to the fact that we have improved access to information if we are in a context similar to the environment where we memorized the information 1. It is also known as compartmentalization – a defense mechanism in classic psychoanalytic theory or it is implicitly implied in theories of mind such as Fodor’s Modularity of Mind. Or last but not least has some semblance to AI research with the term “catastrophic forgetting”

As far as psychological facts go this is one I would call a first principle in psychology.

Application of context-dependant memory:

Context-dependent memory is important because it informs us about how we should learn and study. We know that a piece of new information does not immediately propagate throughout your entire mind. You might be aware of the Pareto Principle but this does not mean that you make your every life decision using that principle as a guide now. This fact about our memory tells us if we have an important piece of information we need to remember then we need to deliberately train our brains to memorize it in different contexts.


  1. Godden, D. R., & Baddeley, A. D. (1975). Context‐dependent memory in two natural environments: On land and underwater. British Journal of psychology66(3), 325-331.

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