This review will consider how spontaneous tasks have been applied alongside neuroscientific techniques to test complex forms of recognition memory for objects and their environmental features, e.g. the spatial location of an object or the context in which it is presented. We discuss studies that investigate the roles of the perirhinal cortex and the hippocampus in recognition memory using standard testing paradigms, and consider how these findings contribute to the ongoing debate about whether recognition memory is a single unitary process or multiple processes that can be dissociated anatomically and functionally. Due to the wide use of spontaneous tasks, the need for improved procedures that reduce animal use is acknowledged, with multiple trial paradigms discussed as a novel way of reducing variability and animal numbers in these tasks. The importance of improving translation of animal models to humans is highlighted, with emphasis on a shift away from relying on the phenomenological experience of human subjects.