When your memories can no longer be trusted

New article published in Cortex

Milan, Italy, 28 May 2008 - You went to a wedding yesterday. The service was beautiful, the food and drink flowed and there was dancing all night. But people tell you that you are in hospital, that you have been in hospital for weeks, and that you didn’t go to a wedding yesterday at all.

The experience of false memories like this following neurological damage is known as confabulation. The reasons why patients experience false memories such as these has largely remained a mystery. Now a new study conducted by Dr Martha Turner and colleagues at University College London, published in the May 2008 issue of Cortex offers some clues as to what might be going on.

The authors studied 50 patients who had damage to different parts of the brain, and found that those who confabulated all shared damage to the inferior medial prefrontal cortex, a region in the centre of the front part of the brain just behind the eyes.

“The patients who confabulated had varying levels of memory ability, and varying levels of “executive functioning” (the set of cognitive abilities overseen by the prefrontal cortex that control and regulate other abilities and behaviours), so confabulation cannot be as simple as a combination of these deficits. Instead it must be due to a specific function controlled by the inferior medial prefrontal cortex. Damage to this region appears to lead to the convincing experience of false memories” says Martha Turner, corresponding author for this study.

This study has implications for our understanding of how the human brain controls memory, and how most of us are able to easily tell apart true memories from things we have imagined, dreamed or invented.

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Notes to Editors:
The article is “Confabulation: Damage to a specific inferior medial prefrontal system” by Martha S. Turner, Lisa Cipolotti, Tarek A. Yousry and Tim Shallice, and it appears in Cortex, Volume 44, Issue 6 (May 2008), pp 637-648, published by Elsevier Masson, in Italy.Full text of the article featured above is available upon request. Contact v.brancolini@elsevier.com to obtain a copy. To schedule an interview contact Dr. Martha Turner, martha.turner@ucl.ac.uk.

About Cortex
Cortex is an international journal devoted to the study of cognition and of the relationship between the nervous system and mental processes, particularly as these are reflected in the behaviour of patients with acquired brain lesions, normal volunteers, children with typical and atypical development, and in the activation of brain regions and systems as recorded by functional neuroimaging techniques. It was founded in 1964 by Ennio De Renzi. The Editor in-chief of Cortex is Sergio Della Sala, Professor of Human Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Edinburgh. Fax: 0131 6513230, e-mail: cortex@ed.ac.uk. Cortex is available online at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/00109452

About Elsevier

Elsevier is a world-leading provider of information solutions that enhance the performance of science, health, and technology professionals, empowering them to make better decisions, deliver better care, and sometimes make groundbreaking discoveries that advance the boundaries of knowledge and human progress. Elsevier provides web-based, digital solutions — among them ScienceDirect, Scopus, Elsevier Research Intelligence, and ClinicalKey — and publishes nearly 2,200 journals, including The Lancet and Cell, and over 25,000 book titles, including a number of iconic reference works.

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Media Contact:
Valeria Brancolini
Elsevier Masson, Italy
Tel: +39 02 88184 260
v.brancolini@elsevier.com