Trusting our memories: dissociating the neural correlates of confidence in veridical versus illusory memories.
Although memory confidence and accuracy tend to be positively correlated, people sometimes remember with high confidence events that never happened. How can confidence correlate with accuracy but apply also to illusory memories? One possible explanation is that high confidence in veridical versus illusory memories depends on different neural mechanisms. The present study investigated this possibility using functional magnetic resonance imaging and a modified version of the Deese-Roediger-McDermott false-memory paradigm. Participants read short lists of categorized words, and brain activity was measured while they performed a recognition test with confidence rating. The study yielded three main findings. First, compared with low-confidence responses, high-confidence responses were associated with medial temporal lobe (MTL) activity in the case of true recognition but with frontoparietal activity in the case of false recognition. Second, these regions showed significant confidence-by-veridicality interactions. Finally, only MTL regions showed greater activity for high-confidence true recognition than for high-confidence false recognition, and only frontoparietal regions showed greater activity for high-confidence false recognition than for high-confidence true recognition. These findings indicate that confidence in true recognition is mediated primarily by a recollection-related MTL mechanism, whereas confidence in false recognition reflects mainly a familiarity-related frontoparietal mechanism. This account is consistent with the fuzzy trace theory of false recognition. Correlation analyses revealed that MTL and frontoparietal regions play complementary roles during episodic retrieval. In sum, the present study shows that when one focuses exclusively on high-confidence responses, the neural correlates of true and false memory are clearly different.
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