Reconstructive memory: Confabulating the past, simulating the future

Posted: April 4, 2017 in Uncategorized

From the Great Courses Series, Steven Novella, M.D.lectures for a course on critical thinking called “Your Deceptive Mind”. He introduces the term “confabulation.” Although this article refers to psychopathology, it describes the less publicized neurotypical fallibility of our memories. He says that memory retrieval is better described as a constructive process, and that unlike our past beliefs in memory, we actually can “lose” memories, something hard for me to believe. Even though I have often faced complete losses of events that others remember and recount to me, I had always blamed the loss as more of a retrieval problem. But maybe the memories simply aren’t there in my brain anymore.

“Confabulations are classified into one of two categories: provoked and spontaneous. A provoked confabulation is when a patient invents an untrue story in response to a question. These tend to be quite common among patients with amnesia or dementia. A spontaneous confabulation is a more rare occurrence and involves the telling of an untrue story with no apparent motivation.”

Mo Costandi

The term ‘Rashomon effect’ is often used by psychologists in situations where observers give different accounts of the same event,and describes the effect of subjective perceptions on recollection. The phenomenon is named after a 1950 film by the great Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. It was with Rashōmon that Western cinema-goers discovered both Kurosawa and Japanese film in general – the film won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 1951, as well as the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film the following year.

Rashōmon is an adaptation of two short stories by Akutagawa Ryunosuke. Set in the 12th century, the film depicts the trial of a notorious bandit called Tajomaru (played by Kurosawa’s frequent collaborator Toshirô Mifune), who is alleged to have raped a woman and killed her samurai husband. In flashbacks, the incident is recalled by four different witnesses – a woodcutter, a priest, the…

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