What Is Confabulation In Psychology

What is confabulation in psychology

Memories, although most of the time they may be reliable, are not exact images of past reality. Even our emotional state influences the way we remember certain events, situations or even people. Furthermore, on the other hand, our memory has a limited capacity and we are not able to remember absolutely everything from our past.

In relation to all this, there may be failures in the recovery of information that lead us to distort everything from the details of, for example, a specific event to the event itself as a whole. False memories then appear, a phenomenon widely studied in psychology and called confabulation. Continue reading this PsychologyFor article in which we tell you what is confabulation in psychology.

Meaning of confabulation in psychology

What is collusion in psychology and psychiatry? As we have already anticipated, confabulations are false memories that the patient considers true and that appear as a result of a problem in the information retrieval process.

How does a person who presents confabulations act? Gilboa and Moscovitch (2002, seen in Lorente-Rovira, E. et al, 2011a)(1) They expose four characteristics of confabulations:

  • Are false memories which can range from an alteration of details to an alteration of the entire memory.
  • There is no intention to adulterate the speech, in fact the patient is not aware of colluding. This aspect distinguishes him from those who lie in their memory, since they do have an intention to adulterate it.
  • The patient can act consistently with his confabulations.
  • Confabulation is more evident when an autobiographical collection is requested than spontaneously.

Types of collusion

Schnider’s classification (2008, seen in Lorente-Rovira, E. et al, 2011a)(1) It includes four types of conspiracy, including the previous ones, according to its production mechanism:

  • Intrusions in memory tests: They are provoked when the person is asked to remember details of a story, as occurs in memory tests.
  • Momentary confabulations: describe false verbal statements in a conversation in which the person is prompted to make a comment.
  • fantastic confabulations: These are confabulations that are meaningless, illogical and unaccompanied by the corresponding behavior. They have no real basis.
  • Behaviorally spontaneous confabulations: appear in severe amnesia and disorientation. The patient behaves in a manner consistent with the content of her confabulations.

Neuropsychological models of confabulation

Neuropsychological explanations of confabulation are grouped into two types of theories: temporality theories and recovery theories.

  • Theories of temporality: are those in which the important thing is the failure to remember the temporal context of the information. They consider that, although the person can remember the content of the event or fact, what he does not remember is the order in which the events occurred.
  • Recovery Theories: are those that consider that the problem lies in the reconstruction of the information. They establish that confabulations arise when reconstructing the memory and there would be no problems in the encoding, consolidation and/or storage process.

Cognitive mechanisms of confabulation

Following Lorente-Rovira, E. (2011a)(1) There are three hypotheses that help explain the cognitive mechanisms of confabulation.

Confabulation as a memory deficit

Confabulation necessarily occurs in an amnesiac context, which leads to thinking that it is a memory alteration. Given that confabulation has been observed mainly in syndromes in which there is a memory impairment, confabulation has been proposed as a mechanism that fills in the memory gaps caused by amnesia itself.

The data suggested that memory, by itself, did not explain the appearance of confabulations since:

  • These appear in people without alterations.
  • They disappear even if the memory disorder persists.
  • Confabulations appear in situations in which memory is not the main alteration.

Collusion as an executive alteration

From this other hypothesis, supported by the decrease in confabulations due to the improvement of executive function, confabulations occur due to an executive alteration. However, although quite a few publications support this evidence, the truth is that not all of them support this association. Furthermore, there are studies that seem not to take into account that some of their participants have memory disorders.

Confabulation as a memory and executive alteration

This proposal integrates previous findings and postulates that confabulations are the result of alterations in both executive functions and memory. However, the mechanism by which the patient confabulates is not clearly defined either, since it is unknown which specific executive functions or what combination of them can give rise to confabulations.

In what psychological disorders does confabulation manifest itself?

The most frequent disorders in which confabulations are present are:

  • Korsakoff syndrome.
  • Rupture of the anterior communicating artery.
  • Neurological disorders: Confabulations may be present in other neurological disorders such as strokes, tumors, dementia, etc. In the following article we explain what dementia is, types, symptoms and causes.
  • Psychological and psychiatric disorders: confabulations can also be part of some psychological or psychiatric disorders such as: schizophrenia, delirium and other psychotic disorders, and alcoholism. In the following articles you will find more information about what schizophrenia is and the types of alcoholism.

Examples of confabulation in psychology

Below, we present four examples of collusion based on Schnider’s classification (2008, seen in Lorente-Rovira, E. et al, 2011a):

Intrusions in memory tests

We ask the patient to remember: Did I say the word table in the list of objects that I read to you? The patient will remember the word even if we have not named it on our list.

Momentary confabulations

In a conversation with the patient, we can ask him what he did yesterday and he tells us that he was sitting in the park talking with the neighbors until very late when, in fact, he did not leave the house all day because it was very cold.

fantastic confabulations

In this case, the patient can tell us that yesterday afternoon he was having a snack with the kings at the Zarzuela Palace and that he went there in a horse-drawn carriage. In this case, these are memories that lack reality and logic.

Behaviorally spontaneous confabulations

The patient, for example, may tell us that yesterday was his birthday and he had a big celebration attended by numerous personalities, appearing especially happy and content about it.

This article is merely informative, at PsychologyFor we do not have the power to make a diagnosis or recommend a treatment. We invite you to go to a psychologist to treat your particular case.

If you want to read more articles similar to What is confabulation in psychology we recommend that you enter our Clinical Psychology category.

  1. Lorente-Rovira, E., Berrios, GE, McKenna, P., Moro-Ipola, M. and Villagrán-Moreno, JM (2011a) Confabulations (I): Concept, classification and neuropathology. Spanish Acts of Psychiatry, 39 (4): 251-259.


  • Lorente-Rovira, E., McKenna, P., Berrios, GE, Villagr├ín-Moreno, JM and Moro-Ipola, M. (2011b) Confabulations (II): Explanatory models. Spanish Acts of Psychiatry, 39 (6): 384-392.

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