Confabulation: False Memories

Grant Weitekamp

Why do I care?

Manipulation of mental processes via an outside source has always intrigued me. It is interesting to see just how much of what we think or feel can be truly attributed to free will, and how much can be effectively influenced.

What is Confabulation?

A confabulation is a mental anomaly which causes false memories to solidify regardless of conscious effort to remember them.
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How is the brain effected?

1. In severe cases, confabulations can be caused by damage to the brain including Alzheimer's disease, aneurysms, and alcoholism.

2. Confabulations tend to light up areas in the hippocampus, the area of the brain most associated with the creation and storage of memories.

3. It is widely believed that confabulations occur when a disturbance in the brain causes a failure during the retrieval process of long-term memories. This would explain many of the minor cases in which simple details of an actual event are either forgotten or replaced with false ones. The brain might not have trouble creating the memory, as it is not usually a failure of interpretation of information, but it will have trouble relaying that information at a later date.
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Frederic Barlett

Frederic Barlett is considered one of the first psychologists to study the effects and behavior of confabulations.

In one experiment, Barlett told a group of volunteers a simple Native American folk tale. Unknown to the participants however, Barlett took creative liberties when divulging the story. After listening to his story, Barlett asked his participants cognitive questions about the plot and details of the story. He performed the same task months later and got an interesting result. The parts of the story that Barlett taken liberties on (these were often nonsensical plot points and details) had been replaced in the memories of the participants with more logical and sensible in terms of the story. This is an example of a non-diseased brain being effected by confabulations. The human brain loves closure and logic, so when presented with a nonsensical portion of the story, the brain replaced that part with one that fell into a more believable set of details.