Tulving is a professor emeritus at the University of Toronto and a Visiting Professor of Psychology at Washington University in St. Louis. He received his bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Toronto and his doctorate from Harvard University. In 1979, he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. In 1988 he was elected into the United States National Academy of Sciences. In 1992, he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of London. He is also a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. In 2005 he won a Gairdner Foundation International Award, Canada's leading prize in biology and medicine. In 2006, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada, Canada's highest civilian honor. In 2007, he was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame.
Tulving has published at least 200 research articles and chapters, and he is widely cited, with an h-index of 69 (as of April, 2010), and in a Review of General Psychology survey, published in 2002, he ranked as the 36th most cited psychologist of the 20th century. His published works in 1970s were particularly notable because it coincided with the new determination by many cognitive psychologists to confirm their theories in neuroscience using brain-imaging techniques. During this period, Tulving mapped the areas of the brain, which are considered active during the encoding and retrieval of memory, effectively associating the medial temporal lobe and the hippocampus with episodic memory.
At age 17, near the end of World War II, Tulving escaped his native Estonia before it was occupied by the Soviet Union. In 1949 he immigrated to Canada. After a short stint as a farmhand near London, Ontario, he enrolled in Honours Psychology at the University of Toronto. This marked the beginning of an incredibly productive career that has spanned over half a century.
Tulving’s early work on “subjective organization” in free recall led him to the study of retrieval processes that had been largely neglected by previous generations of memory researchers. This work culminated in the “encoding specificity principle.” In 1972 he introduced, and later elaborated, the theory of “episodic memory.” This theory, now generally accepted, has played an important role in the evolution of the concept of “multiple memory systems.” In recent years, with the advancement of technology, he has been studying the neural correlates of encoding and retrieval processes in different memory systems.
Tulving has influenced several generations of students who now hold prestigious posts in universities around the world. Almost humble to a fault, and with a kind manner and dry wit, Tulving has had a profound effect on both the research and practice in cognitive neuroscience, psychiatry and clinical neurology.
Recognition of Tulving’s work has been reflected in many ways. His publications are highly cited; he has been elected to six national academies of science worldwide; and he has received numerous prestigious awards, including the Gairdner Award in 2005. He was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2006. At age 80 he continues to publish groundbreaking work at the Rotman Research Institute of Baycrest in Toronto.