Public Release: 

When your memories can no longer be trusted

Elsevier

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 publisher of scientific, technical and medical information products and services. Working in partnership with the global science and health communities, Elsevier's 7,000 employees in over 70 offices worldwide publish more than 2,000 journals and 1,900 new books per year, in addition to offering a suite of innovative electronic products, such as ScienceDirect (http://www.sciencedirect.com/), MD Consult (http://www.mdconsult.com/), Scopus (http://www.info.scopus.com/), bibliographic databases, and online reference works.

Elsevier (http://www.elsevier.com/) is a global business headquartered in Amsterdam, The Netherlands and has offices worldwide. Elsevier is part of Reed Elsevier Group plc (http://www.reedelsevier.com/), a world-leading publisher and information provider. Operating in the science and medical, legal, education and business-to-business sectors, Reed Elsevier provides high-quality and flexible information solutions to users, with increasing emphasis on the Internet as a means of delivery. Reed Elsevier's ticker symbols are REN (Euronext Amsterdam), REL (London Stock Exchange), RUK and ENL (New York Stock Exchange).

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