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Trends Cogn Sci. 1998 Apr 1;2(4):137-45.

False memories and confabulation.

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Department of Psychology, Green Hall, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544-1010, USA.


Memory distortions range from the benign (thinking you mailed a check that you only thought about mailing), to the serious (confusing what you heard after a crime with what you actually saw), to the fantastic (claiming you piloted a spaceship). We review theoretical ideas and empirical evidence about the source monitoring processes underlying both true and false memories. Neuropsychological studies show that certain forms of brain damage (such as combined frontal and medial-temporal lesions) might result in profound source confusions, called confabulations. Neuroimaging techniques provide new evidence regarding more specific links between underlying brain mechanisms and the normal cognitive processes involved in evaluating memories. One hypothesis is that the right prefrontal cortex (PFC) subserves heuristic judgments based on easily assessed qualities (such as familiarity or perceptual detail) and the left PFC (or the right and left PFC together) subserves more systematic judgments requiring more careful analysis of memorial qualities or retrieval and evaluation of additional supporting or disconfirming information. Such heuristic and systematic processes can be disrupted not only by brain damage but also, for example, by hypnosis, social demands and motivational factors, suggesting caution in the methods used by `memory exploring' professions (therapists, police officers, lawyers, etc.) in order to avoid inducing false memories.


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