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What is Confabulation?

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  • Written By: Allison Boelcke
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 27 August 2016
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Confabulation is a condition in which a person's brain produces inaccurate or false memories. It may appear as though a person with this condition is deceptive, but he or she actually believes the memories are true. The memories can range from mundane details to bizarre stories or accusations. The exact cause of the condition is not known, but may be due to various neurological impairments. It does not have a cure or effectively proven treatment.

There are two main types of confabulation: provoked and spontaneous. Provoked refers to untrue memories that appear normal, such as forgetting or altering small details in an otherwise true event. Spontaneous is when the untrue descriptions or memories are completely false and have no basis in any type of real memory whatsoever.

The main symptoms of the more mild, provoked forms of the condition is when a person recalls prior events incorrectly. The actual events become jumbled in the brain with occurrences that never happened. This can cause the person to come across as confused or appear that he or she is simply embellishing. This form is not usually as noticeable and may come across as simply forgetfulness.

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In more severe, spontaneous cases, a person may recall events or instances that never happened in any form. He or she may ultimately believe these things happened, and can become frustrated or aggressive when not believed. Others may dismiss the person as a compulsive liar and treat him or her in a hostile manner. While it can affect a person's personal life, it can also come with more serious ramifications. For instance, a person with confabulation may accuse people of criminal acts and file false police charges or give untrue court testimony under oath.

One possible cause for confabulation is memory loss due to neurological disorders that impair memory. A person who cannot remember events correctly may have his brain compensate for the lack of knowledge by providing him with additional details to fill in the gaps. It is beyond the person's control, so he does not realize what his brain is doing and thinks the new details actually are true.

The condition could also be due to brain damage, specifically in the basal forebrain and frontal lobe. The basal forebrain is the front part of the brain that is responsible for learning and memory, while the frontal lobe is an area of the brain responsible for reasoning, emotions, and self-awareness. If the basal forebrain is injured due to trauma, it may result in memory loss. People with damage to this area will usually realize they don't remember events, but if it is combined with frontal lobe damage, they won't have the reasoning or self-awareness to recognize the memory loss.

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