Foundations Of Cognitive Science

Encoding Specificity

The encoding specificity principle of memory (Tulving & Thomson, 1973) provides an general theoretical framework for understanding how contextual information affects memory. Specifically, the principle states that memory is improved when information available at encoding is also available at retrieval. For example, the encoding specificity principle would predict that recall for information would be better if subjects were tested in the same room they had studied in versus having studied in one room and tested in a different room (see Smith, Glenberg, & Bjork, 1978).


  1. Smith, S.M., Glenberg, A.M., & Bjork, R.A. (1978). Environmental contest and human memory. Memory and Cognition, 6, 342-353.
  2. Tulving, E., & Thomson, D.M. (1973). Encoding specificity and retrieval processes in episodic memory. Psychological Review, 80, 352-373.

(Revised April 2010)