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J Int Neuropsychol Soc. 2010 Nov;16(6):984-94. doi: 10.1017/S1355617710001104. Epub 2010 Oct 20.

Spontaneous confabulation, temporal context confusion and reality monitoring: a study of three patients with anterior communicating artery aneurysms.

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Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, London, United Kingdom.


Spontaneous confabulation involves the production of false or distorted memories, and is commonly associated with ventromedial prefrontal damage. One influential theory proposes that the critical deficit is a failure to suppress currently irrelevant memory traces that intrude into ongoing thinking (Schnider & Ptak, 1999). In this study, we report experimental investigations with three spontaneously confabulating patients aimed at exploring this account. Using Schnider and Ptak's (1999) continuous recognition paradigm, we replicated their experimental results with our patients. However, our data suggest that the critical impairment might be more generalized than a failure to suppress currently irrelevant memories. First, a temporal source monitoring task failed to show that previous memory traces intrude into the present. Second, a reality monitoring task revealed that confabulating patients had a tendency to misidentify imagined events as real, a result that cannot be explained in terms of temporal confusion. This error was specific to confabulating patients and was not shared by non-confabulating ACoA patients. Our data therefore suggest a more generalized impairment in source monitoring, not only on the basis of temporality or current relevance, but across a range of contextual domains, including information used to distinguish real memories from imaginings.

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