Saturday, January 28, 2006

Confabulation

Pamela taught me this word and concept recently.  

confabulate
2. Psychology To fill in gaps in one's memory with fabrications that one believes to be facts.
Recently, I inadvertently caused quite a stir at work by listening to a talk by one manager and then doing a bit of confabulation as I discussed that talk with a much higher level manager.  It was almost impossible for me to believe I had misremembered what was communicated in the talk.  Fortunately, the talk was actually video recorded.  I was able to watch it again and see exactly where my memory gaps occurred and how I had filled them in with incorrect information.  Since the topic was the size of lay offs that might be required in my region of the organization, I believe that the right and left side of my brains (emotive and rational)  collaborated to create a confabulation that was a good deal worse than what had actually been communicated.  It was a powerful lesson for me about how one’s emotions can influence how one remembers and retells an event.
Confabulation can be the result of brain damage or brain disorders.  However, it can also be a normal brain's response to certain situations.  Below I have cut and pasted four relevant paragraphs from a much longer article:

Confabulation and Delusional Denial: Frontal Lobe and Lateralized Influences. by Rhawn Joseph, Brain Research Laboratory, Neurobehavioral Center
Reprinted from: Journal of Clinical Psychology, 42, 845-860, 1986

Confabulation (or rather, in the less extreme case, self-deception) does not occur only among severely brain-injured individuals, but, rather, is sometimes the byproduct of the normal process via which explanations for behaviors, impulses, or other actions are provided; particularly those that have causes that are not immediately and/or completely amenable to linguistic translation or interpretation (e.g.,"gap filling"). Although confabulatory, in many instances the explanations seem reasonable, innocuous, and accurate, although completely erroneous.
For example, Nisbett and Wilson (1977) describe an experiment in which shoppers were asked to indicate a preference among four supposedly different (yet identical) nylon stockings. A very significant and pronounced position effect was noted such that most chose the stocking to the right of the display. When asked their reasons, no one mentioned position, but instead commented on differences in color, texture, etc.although all of the stockings were identical. Moreover, when position effects were mentioned by the experimenters, most of the shoppers were disbelieving.
In other instances, confabulation is merely the result of an attempt to provide explanations that are acceptable to the self-image. Indeed, it often happens that people will make a"slip of the tongue,"“speak without thinking,"make foolish statements, act on sudden impulses or in a peculiar or insulting manner, or engage in various objectionable activities, and yet no even realize that an inappropriate act was committed. Of course, if pointed out, this does not prevent the left hemisphere (i.e., the speaking half of the brain) from inventing numerous explanations or denials. If questioned, the individual may claim to have"no idea"as to"what cam over them"or, in other instances, dismiss the action as a rare and momentary lapse that is not as bad as it seems. Such explanations commonly are produced, for example, by young women who have been successfully seduced. (See Joseph, 1980, p. 777).
Although such actions and denials have been classified as various forms of resistance, repression, etc., one need not posit the existence of an unconscious in order to explain the motivational origins and mechanisms involved (Joseph, 1980, 1982). Rather, in many instances these behaviors, denials, and conflicts are the result of the differential organization of the right and left cerebral hemisphere (as well as that of the limbic system) and their inability to completely communicate and engage in information transfer and exchange (e.g., something is lost in the translation and during transfer). In certain instances, one brain half often has little or no knowledge (much less understanding) of what is occurring in the other.
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