Not All False Memories Are Created Equal: The Neural Basis of False Recognition

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False recognition, a type of memory distortion where one claims to remember something that never happened, can occur in response to items that are similar but not identical to previously seen items (i.e., related false recognition) or in response to novel items (i.e., unrelated false recognition). It is unknown whether these 2 types of memory errors arise from the same or distinct neural substrates. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we compared the neural activity associated with true recognition, related false recognition, and unrelated false recognition for abstract shapes. True recognition and related false recognition were associated with similar patterns of neural activity, including activity in the prefrontal cortex, the parietal cortex, and the medial temporal lobe. By contrast, unrelated false recognition was associated with activity in language-processing regions. These results indicate that false recognition is not a unitary phenomenon, but rather can reflect the operation of 2 distinct cognitive and neural processes.

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