Washington, May 29 : You went out with your friends yesterday. Had great fun, and ended the 'gala' meeting by downing three vodka shots. But your folks tell you that you have been in hospital for weeks, and never stepped out of it. Now, a new study is on the way to explaining how the brain creates fake reality.
The experience of such false memories like this following neurological damage - known as confabulation - has intrigued psychiatrists and neurologists for more than a century as a potential key to unlocking the mysteries of human memory and imagination.
Now, a new study conducted by Dr Martha Turner and colleagues at University College London, published in the May 2008 issue of Cortex, has offered some clues as to what might be going on.
In their research, the scientists 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," said Turner.
"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," she added.
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.