Neuropsychologist Daniel Schacter, PhD, of Harvard University, described some of his investigations into the cognitive neuroscience of memory distortion in an invited keynote address at APA's 2004 Annual Convention in Honolulu.

He highlighted one study, for example, published by Nature Neuroscience (Vol. 7, No. 6) in June 2004, in which he and colleague Scott Slotnick showed participants pictures of abstract shapes. Later, they showed the participants either the same abstract shapes, or similar ones, then asked the participants whether or not they recalled seeing those exact shapes before.

As the participants tried to recall whether or not they had seen the shapes, Schacter used functional magnetic resonance imaging to monitor their brain activity. He found that early visual processing regions were activated more for a correct recognition of a shape than for a "false memory" of a shape, while late visual processing regions were activated equally for both. That might mean, he said, that the processes that distinguish between true and false memories might not be available to a person's conscious awareness.

Overall, Schacter concluded, researchers are just beginning to investigate the cognitive neuroscience of false memory. But, he said, the convergence of neuropsychological, cognitive and imaging evidence will prove useful, as it has in other areas of memory research.

--L. WINERMAN