Confabulation is a type of memory error when false, misinterpreted, or distorted information is unconsciously filled into gaps in a person’s memory. People who confabulate confuse things they imagine with real memories.
Those who confabulate are not lying. It is not their intention to deceive. Even when they are confronted with contradictory evidence, they are confident that their memories are accurate.
Confabulation is a term coined by German psychiatrist Karl Bonhoeffer in 1900. It is used to describe when people give false or outrageous answers.
Confabulation may sound like lying at first, but it is only caused by a condition affecting your memory. It is because of this that confabulation is often referred to as “honest lying.”
Someone who suffers from confabulation loses memory and their higher reasoning is impaired. This leads to them fabricating stories in order to conceal their memory loss. There is no awareness that they aren’t being honest. Even if those surrounding them know the story is untrue, they don’t have any doubts about what they’re saying.
Confabulation can lead people to fabricate small stories to fill memory gaps. Those who tell such elaborate stories are often referred to as “fantastic confabulations.” Many doctors refer to this as “confabulations of embarrassment.”
Confabulation is not an actual disorder. It is an indication of a more serious ailment. Confabulation is still not well defined and doctors do not fully understand the brain changes that lead to it.
Related: False Memory Disorder
Types of confabulation
Whenever somebody confabulates, their minds are trying to conceal a memory that they have lost. This may happen without them realizing it. There are two types of confabulations: provoked and spontaneous:
- Provoked confabulation: People create untrue stories in response to specific questions. People with dementia or amnesia are most likely to experience this type of confabulation.
- Spontaneous confabulation occurs less often. People fabricate stories without apparent reasons or provocation.
This condition is often linked to memory problems, brain injuries or diseases, and mental health issues. It has also been observed in people who do not have a history of neurological disorders or mental illnesses.
Read: Short-Term Memory Loss
What causes confabulation?
Confabulation can occur under a variety of circumstances. It can occur due to memory disorders, injuries, or psychological conditions. Doctors have thus been unable to pinpoint a specific cause. The frontal lobes and the corpus callosum of the brain are usually damaged in people with symptoms of confabulation. This property of the frontal lobe is often associated with memory.
Confabulation can result from a number of factors, including:
- Annosognosia for hemiplegia, or denying paralysis
- Denial of blindness, or Anton’s syndrome
- Capgras syndrome: the belief that a loved one has been replaced by an imposter
- Korsakoff syndrome
- Memory disorders, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
- Split-brain syndrome
- Traumatic brain injury
Confabulation can also occur among young children.
There are two key components of confabulation, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Confabulation occurs when someone creates a false answer. You may ask them, “What is your favorite place to go?” Even if they have never been to Antarctica, they may respond with a story about a trip to the continent that includes specific details. It’s another thing for them to believe what they’re saying without thinking further about it. The situation is very different from someone who is deliberately lying knowing what they are doing.
People without a disability that affects their memory or thought process are likely to say “I don’t know” when they cannot recall or do not know the answer to a question. If the brain is affected or memory is fading, a person may alternately create a story to fill in the blanks.
It isn’t always a huge story, but rather a small story that confabulates. Here are some examples:
- Imagining the way they got a bruise or cut
- Storytelling, even when they didn’t participate in that activity
Confabulation can be explained according to several different theories. There are two main factors believed to be responsible for this type of memory disturbance:
- Overlearning: People may find that certain types of information are always in the forefront of their minds. Whenever certain information dominates a person’s memory, other details tend to fade away. Overlearned information can become dominant and push out specifics as gaps in memory occur. The distortions and inaccuracies caused by this can cause serious problems.
- Poor encoding: It is because of this factor that long-term memory is not fully able to hold information. The likelihood of paying attention to details decreases if a person is distracted during an event. Information that is not fully encoded increases the risk of forgotten or misremembered information.
Read: Frontotemporal Dementia
Identifying confabulated memories
There are times when it is difficult to recognize confabulation. Mental health and memory conditions can also be harder to diagnose when this occurs. Confabulated individuals can be detected by doctors and mental health professionals by:
- Ask questions: The clinician will ask the patient about their experiences, symptoms, or medical history during the interview process. It may be necessary to refer the individual to a neurologist if inconsistencies are noted.
- Family reports: Since confabulation can be very difficult to recognize by professionals, family and friends may be able to provide information. Confabulation is often only apparent to those who live with or spend a great deal of time with the individual.
- with multiple sources: Several sources may be used to verify information in the case of suspected confabulation, so as to determine if it is accurate.
Treatment of confabulation
The treatment of confabulation can be difficult. The recommended approach to treatment depends on the underlying cause (if it is possible to identify the source).
for instance, observing that memories are not valid in people with dementia is pointless. It is better to offer acceptance and support to them rather than attempting to refute their memories.
It is sometimes possible to treat confabulation with psychotherapy and cognitive behavior therapy. People who use these methods become more aware of the errors in their memories.
It is also possible to employ techniques that encourage a person to question what he or she remembers and does not remember. We encourage people to not confabulate a response but rather respond by saying that they don’t know.
Those who have suffered brain injuries are more likely to benefit from neuropsychological therapy. Researchers presented participants with their incorrect answers after they had completed a memory task.
Participants were instructed to pay attention to the material as they were shown their errors and to think carefully about their answers before responding. Based on the results of the study, the proposed treatment was effective in reducing confabulations, and it was also apparent that these effects could be applied in other areas post-treatment.
Read: Vascular Dementia
Coping with confabulated memories
People who are having confabulations can use a variety of strategies in addition to cognitive and behavioral treatments.
- Get support: Confabulated memories require social support. A trusted family member or friend can help your healthcare provider gather accurate health information about you.
- Corroborate information: Make sure your memory is not the only thing you rely on when making life-changing decisions. Check your records or ask friends and family for verification.
- Keep a diary: Confabulated memories can be dealt with with the assistance of a written record of events. If you review your journal, you may notice that you have difficulties remembering events.
People with confabulation tendencies may become frustrated or distressed by their families and friends. Confabulation can appear as though their loved one is lying, but understanding that it is not a lie can help them cope with it.
Some people with memory disruptions find confabulation frustrating or confusing, but it can sometimes assist them in facing their current reality. Individuals who experience gaps in their memory may experience anxiety and fear. It is possible that the mind creates confabulated memories in an attempt to make sense of the world.
You should seek help if you suspect your loved one is confabulating. If you or a loved one suffers from confabulation, talk to a mental health professional for help figuring out the cause.