Confabulation explained

Confabulation - Toolshero

Confabulation: This article explains confabulation in a practical way. It covers the meaning and definition of confabulation. After reading it you will understand the basics of this concept from neuropsychology. Enjoy reading!

What is confabulation?

The definition of confabulation

Confabulation is a memory error, as described in psychology, that is formed as a result of fabricated, distorted or misinterpreted memories. It is commonly associated with various types of brain damage, such as dementia, alzheimer disease or an aneurysm or other memory disorders. The phenomenon is still under investigation, but it is known that the basal forebrain is involved in the phenomenon.

People who show confabulation are confronted with incorrect memories. This can vary from minor inaccuracies to surreal concoctions that have no interface with reality.

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In general, people are very confident in their own memories, even when confronted with conflicting evidence. The memory is incorrect, but they are confident in its validity. This is also seen in the Mandela effect, but unlike this concept, there is no medical explanation for it.

Yet there is also a group that does not experience this certainty. Other studies show that people who confabulate have less confidence in its accuracy because they often start their answer with “I don’t know…” followed by their answer or memory.

These memory errors are usually autobiographical. That means people often misremember their own memories. For example, they place their experiences in the wrong moment or at a wrong time. Sometimes they remember details, correct or incorrect. Details can also be gleaned from television, books or overheard conversations.

Origin of the concept

The term was first described in the medical literature by Sergei Sergeievich Korsakoff in the early 1900s. Sergei, a Russian psychiatrist, noted that alcoholics often exhibited memory impairments referred to as pseudo-memories, or illusions or falsifications of memory.

Other prominent psychiatrists, such as Emil Kraepelin and Karl Bonhoeffer, then began to document cases of confabulation in patients with dementia, traumatic brain injury, and senility. They found that patients could also respond physically to confabulations, meaning behavior is based on false memories.


Confabulating is not the same as lying. Confabulations occur, even though a person makes no deliberate attempt to deceive or distort the truth. On the contrary, they are confident in their memories and strongly believe that they are right. The phenomenon is also not the same as a delusion. Both are about false beliefs, but delusions are less entrenched in the real world. Delusions are especially common in psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia.

When a person’s mind confabulates, the brain tries to hide a memory that has been lost. This happens without people even knowing about it. There are two types of confabulations: provoked and spontaneous.

Provoked Confabulation

Provoked confabulating happen when a person creates an incorrect story in response to a specific question. This type is most common in people who have dementia or another form of memory loss.

Spontaneous confabulation

Spontaneous confabulation is less common than provoked confabulation. It means that someone tells a made-up story for no reason, without apparent motivation or provocation.

Both forms are associated with memory impairment, brain injury and disease, but it is also seen in people without any history of neurological disease, mental illness or brain damage.


The phenomenon is difficult to treat, as the cause is almost always completely neurological. The recommended treatment approach depends on the exact cause, if it is possible to identify it.

In any case, there is little point in discussing the validity of memories. Instead, it is better to try to accept the memories and offer support to the person when he or she is struggling with memories.

In some cases, confabulation can be treated with psychotherapy or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). These treatments aim to make people aware of the inaccuracy of their own memory. Of course, these treatments only work if there are no conditions such as dementia.

A 2017 study found that neuropsychological treatment for confabulation may be helpful in people who have suffered brain injuries. Researchers asked study participants to complete a memory task and had them see incorrect answers. When the participants saw their mistakes, they were given specific instructions to pay more attention to the material and think more about their answer. The results indicated that the approach was effective to some extent in reducing confabulations.

How to deal with confusion

Relatives and other people close to those who suffer from false memories can easily become frustrated. It may seem that their loved ones are lying, but in reality it is not an attempt to twist the truth. Once you know it’s absolutely involuntary, it may become easier to deal with.

Although it can be confusing and frustrating for those close to them, it sometimes helps people with a memory impairment to learn to deal with the current reality. Gaps in memory can be a scary thing, and confabulated memories are the brain’s way of filling in these gaps. In doing so, it tries to understand the world again.

If you are concerned that someone around you is showing symptoms that resemble false memories, it is important that you seek the help of professionals. Consider a mental health diagnosis and make sure the underlying cause of the confabulations becomes clear. Making a diagnosis makes it easy to help your loved one deal with the problem.

Confabulations can have different effects in different healthcare settings. Accurately identifying its cause is difficult for professionals. If not recognized, inaccurate information can contribute to a misdiagnosis, sometimes with far-reaching consequences.

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Now It’s Your Turn

What do you think? Do you recognize the explanation about false memories? Do you understand confabulation? Do you have family members who have suffered from this? Have you ever suffered from false memories? Do you see any similarities between confabulation and the Mandela effect? Do you have any tips or comments?

Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.

More information

  1. Moscovitch, M. (1995). Confabulation.
  2. Berlyne, N. (1972). Confabulation. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 120(554), 31-39.
  3. Kopelman, M. D. (1987). Two types of confabulation. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, 50(11), 1482-1487.
  4. Barba, G. D. (1993). Confabulation: Knowledge and recollective experience. Cognitive Neuropsychology, 10(1), 1-20.

How to cite this article:
Janse, B. (2022). Confabulation. Retrieved [insert date] from Toolshero:

Original publication date: 07/17/2022 | Last update: 07/26/2023

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Ben Janse
Article by:

Ben Janse

Ben Janse is a young professional working at ToolsHero as Content Manager. He is also an International Business student at Rotterdam Business School where he focusses on analyzing and developing management models. Thanks to his theoretical and practical knowledge, he knows how to distinguish main- and side issues and to make the essence of each article clearly visible.


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