Confabulation: Why Your Brain Tells Tall Tales
I appreciate The Situationist blog for linking to this article.
Article Introduction (Via New Scientist)
Confabulation is clearly far more than a result of a deficit in our memory, says William Hirstein, a neurologist and philosopher at Elmhurst College in Chicago and author of a book on the subject entitled Brain Fiction (MIT Press, 2005). Children and many adults confabulate when pressed to talk about something they have no knowledge of, and people do it during and after hypnosis. This raises doubts about the accuracy of witness testimony (see “The unreliable witness”). In fact, we may all confabulate routinely as we try to rationalise decisions or justify opinions. Why do you love me? Why did you buy that outfit? Why did you choose that career? At the extreme, some experts argue that we can never be sure about what is actually real and so must confabulate all the time to try to make sense of the world around us.
Additional Article Excerpts (Via New Scientist)
Confabulation was first mentioned in the medical literature in the late 1880s, applied to patients of the Russian psychiatrist Sergei Korsakoff. He described a distinctive type of memory deficit in people who had abused alcohol for many years. These people had no recollection of recent events, yet filled in the blanks spontaneously with sometimes fantastical and impossible stories.
Also sharing this penchant for storytelling are some people who have suffered an aneurysm or rupture of the anterior communicating artery, a blood vessel in the brain that carries blood to frontal lobe regions. These people also have profound amnesia, yet seem unaware they have a problem and confabulate to cover the gaps.