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. 2014 May 28;34(22):7677-82.
doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0119-14.2014.

False Recall Is Reduced by Damage to the Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex: Implications for Understanding the Neural Correlates of Schematic Memory

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False Recall Is Reduced by Damage to the Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex: Implications for Understanding the Neural Correlates of Schematic Memory

David E Warren et al. J Neurosci. .
Free PMC article


Schematic memory, or contextual knowledge derived from experience (Bartlett, 1932), benefits memory function by enhancing retention and speeding learning of related information (Bransford and Johnson, 1972; Tse et al., 2007). However, schematic memory can also promote memory errors, producing false memories. One demonstration is the "false memory effect" of the Deese-Roediger-McDermott (DRM) paradigm (Roediger and McDermott, 1995): studying words that fit a common schema (e.g., cold, blizzard, winter) often produces memory for a nonstudied word (e.g., snow). We propose that frontal lobe regions that contribute to complex decision-making processes by weighting various alternatives, such as ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), may also contribute to memory processes by weighting the influence of schematic knowledge. We investigated the role of human vmPFC in false memory by combining a neuropsychological approach with the DRM task. Patients with vmPFC lesions (n = 7) and healthy comparison participants (n = 14) studied word lists that excluded a common associate (the critical item). Recall and recognition tests revealed expected high levels of false recall and recognition of critical items by healthy participants. In contrast, vmPFC patients showed consistently reduced false recall, with significantly fewer intrusions of critical items. False recognition was also marginally reduced among vmPFC patients. Our findings suggest that vmPFC increases the influence of schematically congruent memories, a contribution that may be related to the role of the vmPFC in decision making. These novel neuropsychological results highlight a role for the vmPFC as part of a memory network including the medial temporal lobes and hippocampus (Andrews-Hanna et al., 2010).


Figure 1.
Figure 1.
Neuroanatomy of the vmPFC patients and performance of both groups on the DRM task. Healthy comparisons and vmPFC patients completed the DRM task, which provokes false recall and recognition through omission of a strong associate from a studied list of schematically related words. A, Lesion overlap was concentrated in the vmPFC (hotter colors indicate more cases with overlapping lesions; see scale). Black lines in the medial view correspond to coronal slices (rostral to caudal; radiological convention, L marks left hemisphere). B, Left, The comparison and vmPFC groups recalled a similar proportion of studied items, but (right) the vmPFC group had fewer critical intrusions than the comparison group (error bars indicate SEM; *p < 0.05; n.s., no statistical difference). C, Left, The comparison and vmPFC groups had similar recognition of studied items, but (right) the vmPFC group was somewhat less likely to incorrectly recognize critical items as studied (error bars indicate SEM; ∼ indicates marginal group difference). Solid bars indicate vmPFC group performance when patient 0318 was excluded; dashed bars reflect the inclusion of patient 0318 (Table 2). D, During recall, both groups showed typical primacy and recency effects. No significant between-group differences were observed (points indicate group means; error bars indicate SEM). E, DRM lists provoked different rates of critical intrusion in the two groups. Comparisons produced more critical intrusions regardless of ranked list effectiveness (ordered from most to least effective for each group independently). Prop., Proportion; CI, critical intrusion.

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