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Northwestern researchers pinpoint how false memories are formed

bigger or smaller than a video monitor.

The memory test was administered outside the scanner and began approximately 20 minutes after the scanning. Subjects heard a randomly ordered sequence of spoken words. One-third corresponded to photos they had seen, one-third to objects they had only imagined and one-third they had neither seen nor imagined. For each word, subjects decided whether or not they had viewed a photo of the named object during the study phase.

Three brain areas (precuneus, right inferior parietal cortex and anterior cingulate) showed greater responses in the study phase to words that would later be falsely remembered as having been presented with photos, compared to words that were not later misremembered as having been presented with photos. The words leading to false memories also tended to be slightly more concrete, on average, than those that did not. Presumably, people could generate a visual image more easily for the more concrete words.

"At any rate, the remarkable finding is that brain activity during the study phase could predict which objects would subsequently be falsely remembered as having been seen as a photograph," Paller said.

The flip side is that memory for viewed photographs was often correct. People gave many correct responses for objects they indeed viewed. Brain activity produced in response to viewed pictures and measured with functional MRI also predicted which pictures would be subsequently remembered. Two brain regions in particular -- the left hippocampus and the left prefrontal cortex -- were activated more strongly for pictures that were later remembered than for pictures that were forgotten. These two brain areas have previously been understood to play a central role in memory.

The new findings directly showed that different brain areas are critical for accurate memories for visual objects than for false rememberin
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Contact: Pat Vaughan Tremmel
p-tremmel@northwestern.edu
847-491-4892
Northwestern University
14-Oct-2004


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