State-dependent learning

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State-dependent learning, or state-dependent memory, is the phenomenon in which the retrieval of a memory is most effective when an individual is in the same state of consciousness as it was when the memory was formed.[1] The term is typically used to describe states of consciousness induced by psychoactive drugs—most commonly, alcohol.[2]

Unlike context-dependent memory, which involves an individual's external environment, state-dependent memory applies only to the individual's internal environment.


A very clear description of state-dependent memory is found in John Elliotson's "Human Physiology" (1835):[3]

"Dr. Abel informed me," says Mr. Combe (presumably George Combe), " of an Irish porter to a warehouse, who forgot, when sober, what he had done when drunk: but, being drunk, again recollected the transactions of his former state of intoxication. On one occasion, being drunk, he had lost a parcel of some value, and in his sober moments could give no account of it. Next time he was intoxicated, he recollected that he had left the parcel at a certain house, and there being no address on it, it had remained there safely, and was got on his calling for it. This man must have had two souls, one for his sober state, and one for him when drunk."

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  1. ^ Overton, D. A. (1966). "State-dependent learning produced by depressant and atropine-like drugs". Psychopharmacologia 10 (1): 6–31. doi:10.1007/BF00401896. PMID 5982984.  edit
  2. ^ Goodwin, D. W.; Powell, B.; Bremer, D.; Hoine, H.; Stern, J. (1969). "Alcohol and Recall: State-Dependent Effects in Man". Science 163 (3873): 1358–1360. doi:10.1126/science.163.3873.1358. PMID 5774177.  edit
  3. ^ Elliotson, John (1835). "Human Physiology". London, Longman, Orme, Browne, Green, and Longmans. Retrieved 25 March 2013. 

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