University of Bologna researchers in Italy say that memory accuracy in patients with confabulation, a devastating memory disorder consisting in the uncontrolled production of "false memories", can be improved by reducing attentional resources.
Confabulating patients often act upon their false memories with dramatic consequences, according to background information in their study report, published in Cortex.
The researchers say that reducing attentional resources can help avoid such consequences.
Their study involved patients with lesions in the prefrontal lobe, including patients with and without confabulation, and healthy individuals.
In two experiments, participants retrieved their memories either with full attention or divided attention (i.e., while doing another task).
Non-confabulating patients and healthy individuals performed better when their full attention was devoted to the memory task.
Not so for confabulating patients: Under full attention, confabulating patients exhibited high false-memory levels, which were strongly reduced when their attention was divided between two tasks.
The results of this study are important both theoretically and practically. First, they indicate that lack of attention during memory retrieval is not the reason for confabulation.
Rather, confabulating patients might over-process irrelevant information during mnemonic decisions, and therefore reducing attentional resources available for such a dysfunctional processing enhances memory.