The constructive nature of memory is generally adaptive, allowing us to efficiently store, process and learn from life events, and simulate future scenarios to prepare ourselves for what may come. However, the cost of a flexibly constructive memory system is the occasional conjunction error, whereby the components of an event are authentic, but the combination of those components is false. Using a novel recombination paradigm, it was demonstrated that details from one autobiographical memory (AM) may be incorrectly incorporated into another, forming AM conjunction errors that elude typical reality monitoring checks. The factors that contribute to the creation of these conjunction errors were examined across two experiments. Conjunction errors were more likely to occur when the corresponding details were partially rather than fully recombined, likely due to increased plausibility and ease of simulation of partially recombined scenarios. Brief periods of imagination increased conjunction error rates, in line with the imagination inflation effect. Subjective ratings suggest that this inflation is due to similarity of phenomenological experience between conjunction and authentic memories, consistent with a source monitoring perspective. Moreover, objective scoring of memory content indicates that increased perceptual detail may be particularly important for the formation of AM conjunction errors.
Keywords: Autobiographical memory; False memory; Imagination; Memory conjunction error; Phenomenology.