Endel Tulving was born in Estonia, the son of a judge, in 1927. As a child he was not interested in science – sports was his passion. At gymnasium (a type of secondary school), he found that the only subject that interested him was psychology. Because of the war, Tulving left Estonia when he was 17, and spent 4 years in Germany, from1945 to1949. After the war, he worked as a translator for the Americans and was a medical student at Heidelberg university for one year. He completed his BA in 1953 and his MA in 1954 at the University of Toronto. He studied for his doctorate at Harvard University, and was awarded his PhD in 1957.
Tulving worked at Harvard, first as research assistant then as teaching fellow from 1954 to 1956. He then moved to the post of lecturer at the University of Toronto and remained there until 1970. During that period, he was promoted to Assistant Professor of Psychology and then Professor of Psychology. After a short period at Yale, he returned to Toronto, first as a Chair at the Department of Psychology and later as University Professor. Since 1992, he has held the post of University Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto and the Tannenbaum Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience at the Rothman Research Institute of Baycrest Centre. Although semi-retired, he still works hard. He organised an international conference with his wife on Memory, Consciousness and the Brain in Tallinn, Estonia in 1998. He has received many honours and awards, and has gained widespread international recognition for his research on memory.
Tulving's work addressed the relationship between the encoding and retrieval of mental events and the encoding-specificity principle that he proposed has and continues to stimulate much research. He is also recognised for his work on long-term memory and his proposition that it comprises a number of different yet related forms or systems, including procedural memory, semantic memory and episodic memory. Tulving's current work continues to be concerned with fundamental theoretical issues and to clarify the distinction between episodic memory and other forms of memory, and the role that time plays in memory.