Varieties of Memory and Consciousness: Essays in Honour of Endel Tulving

By Henry L. Roediger III; Fergus I. M. Craik et al. | Go to book overview

8
Confabulation and the Frontal Systems: Strategic versus Associative retrieval in Neuropsychological Theories of Memory

Morris Moscovitch Department of Psychology Erindale College, University of Toronto, and Unit for Memory Disorders

It would be pleasant to record that Endel Tulving's theories of memory sparked my interest in confabulation, but the truth is that I became interested in the topic because of a patient at Baycrest Hospital in Toronto. At first, I merely listened to his confabulating stories with fascination; then I tried to elicit them when they did not occur spontaneously, and finally I began to investigate the syndrome more systematically in an attempt to understand it. I learned quickly that studying single cases is much more difficult than I had anticipated. As a consequence, my study of the confabulating patient consists more of a series of observations than of controlled experiments. Nonetheless, the observations suggest some interesting hypotheses about the nature of the phenomenon and its relevance to theories of memory.

Confabulation can be defined as "honest lying." The confabulating patient provides information that is patently false and sometimes self-contradictory without intending to lie. In fact, the patient is often unaware of the falsehoods, and even when confronted with the truth, may cling to his or her own version of it, no matter how preposterously fantastic that version may be. Talland ( 1965) and Berlyne ( 1972) restrict confabulation to verbal statements, but I think this is not correct. Our own patient's attempt to leave the hospital for home every evening because he mistook his hospital room for his office suggests that his actions can convey the same type of information as his verbal denials that he is in a hospital.

Talland ( 1965) correctly argued against the claim that confabulations are usually "gratuitously invented, fabricated, rather they are erroneously reproduced or reconstructed from actual data" (p. 42). Similarly, he did not believe that the core of a confabulation is produced "to oblige the listener, or to fill in gaps in their knowledge of facts" (p. 42), though "secondary" confabula-

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