Journal of Neurology and Neuroscience

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Confabulation: Implications for Criminal Justice, Forensic Mental Health, and Legal Professionals

Jerrod Brown, Deb Huntley, Erik W Asp, Cameron R Wiley, Janina Cich and Stephen Morgan

Physical and psychological brain disruptions have the ability to impair vital memory functions and processes. For instance, a physical injury to the brain’s frontal lobe can disrupt executive functions, which would include the capacity to plan or multitask, impulse control, and decision making. Similarly, the presence of a degenerative disease such as Alzheimer’s disease can degrade the frontal lobe and lead to executive dysfunction (e.g., short-term memory loss and Broca’s aphasia-a dysfunction of language production). A dangerous potential result of such frontal damage is a phenomenon known as confabulation, which is the unintentional production of memories and statements that are objectively false. In other words, confabulation is lying without the intention of doing so. This cognitive disturbance not only has an impact on daily life, but confabulation is particularly problematic for criminal justice-involved individuals. In general, confabulation makes it difficult for an individual to participate in and navigate through all aspects of the criminal justice system. Moreover, those who may work on behalf of the afflicted, may be negatively impacted by their inability to discern truth from fiction. Individuals suffering from confabulation may be prone to waiving important legal rights (e.g., Miranda rights) or false confessions during interrogations, incompetence to stand trial (i.e., unable to follow legal proceedings and assist defense counsel with their case), or providing false testimony during trials. Each possibility detracts from the integrity of various legal processes. Despite these diverse consequences, there is a dearth of empirical research on the consequences of confabulation in criminal justice settings. In an effort to raise awareness of confabulation in the criminal justice system and encourage further research, this article provides an overview of the symptoms and effects associated with confabulation for professionals working in criminal justice, forensic mental health, and legal settings.