Although patients obviously report untruths when asked a question, confabulation is not considered lying, as patients do not seem to be deliberately deceiving the listener.
Some confabulations are fairly mundane. For example, I met one paralysed patient who explained that he spent the morning walking in the park when asked how his day had been.
Others can be quite fantastical. Another gentleman claimed he had received ‘splinters’ in the head from a machine gun malfunction when fighting aliens.
It is thought that confabulation occurs because the areas of the brain involved in controlling recollection and evaluating the resulting memories (particularly the the frontal lobes) are damaged.
Confabulations are thought to be different from delusions, as they are usually not fixed, with some patients reporting different things when asked the same question again.
The study of confabulation is also interesting because it inspired one of the only neuropsychological studies to use a qualitative approach (i.e. not converting behaviour into numeric measurements).
Neuropsychologists Paul Burgess and Tim Shallice asked friends to recall life events, such as a recent holiday, and <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=pubmed&dopt=Abstract&list_uids=8817460&query_hl=2
“>examined transcripts of their discussions to see how people verified their memories (e.g. “It must have been in June, because it was just after my brother’s birthday…”).
From this they generated a model of normal memory verification and proposed how it could break down after brain injury.
All in the Mind discusses this intriguing condition, with the recently moved-to-Australia Martha Turner, and London based researcher Katerina Fotopoulou.