Public Release: 

When less attention improves behavior

Elsevier

Milan, Italy, 21 January 2009 - A new study conducted at the Centre for Studies and Research in Cognitive Neuroscience of the University of Bologna, and published by Elsevier in the February 2009 issue of Cortex (http://www.elsevier.com/locate/cortex) shows that, in confabulating patients, memory accuracy improves when attentional resources are reduced.

Most cognitive processes supporting adaptive behavior need attentional resources for their operation. Consider memory. If memory was a car, attention would be its fuel: New information is not stored into memory if not attended to, and distraction often leads to misremembering past events. What if the car's brakes are broken? Will adding fuel still be a good thing? Confabulation is a devastating memory disorder consisting in the uncontrolled production of "false memories". Patients often act upon their false memories, with dramatic consequences. The research published in Cortex shows that if memory in confabulation is like a car with broken brakes, then it is best not to add fuel.

The study involved patients with lesions in the prefrontal lobe, including patients with and without confabulation, and healthy individuals. In two experiments, participants retrieved their memories either with full attention or divided attention (i.e., while doing another task). Non-confabulating patients and healthy individuals performed better when their full attention was devoted to the memory task. Not so for confabulating patients: Under full attention, confabulating patients exhibited high false-memory levels, which were strongly reduced when their attention was divided between two tasks.

The results of this study are important both theoretically and practically. First, they indicate that lack of attention during memory retrieval is not the reason for confabulation. Rather, confabulating patients might over-process irrelevant information during mnemonic decisions, and therefore reducing attentional resources available for such a dysfunctional processing enhances memory. Moreover, the results are crucial for developing rehabilitative interventions tailored to confabulating patients. Training them to double-check the accuracy of their memories may not be useful. In fact, these patients should be trained not to attend, and act upon, their mnemonic impressions.

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Notes to Editors:

The article "Divided attention during retrieval suppresses false recognition in confabulation" by Elisa CIaramelli, Simona Ghetti and Marco Borsotti will appear in Cortex, Volume 45, Issue 2 (February 2009), published by Elsevier in Italy. The full text article is available to members of the media upon request. Please contact the Elsevier press office, newsroom@elsevier.com. To schedule an interview, contact Dr. Elisa Ciaramelli, elisa.ciaramelli@utoronto.ca.

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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