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Final Report Summary - FALSEREC (Flase Recognition Judgements: Cognitive Mechanisms and Neural Correlates)

The central issue of the present project was the cognitive dynamics behind a particular type of memory failure: false memories (FMs). Point of interest here were not the situations where memory fails because of forgetting, but rather the situations where people do'remember', but they'remember'what they actually never experienced. FMs can be generated in our brain as a'by-product'of the lexical-semantic connections binding together concepts and pieces of information in our mind. If two concepts are connected to one another, the processing of the first concept could also imply the automatic activation of the second one, which will be therefore very likely to be falsely recalled/recognised at a later time. Indeed, one could logically hypothesize that there is a direct relationship between the degree of activation reached by an item's mental representation and the probability of falsely recall/recognise such item.

Our project wanted to investigate these phenomena, mainly by investigating the neural underpinnings and timing of the generation of FMs but also by exploring the relationships between the structural variables of lexical-semantic neural networks and the dynamics that determine spreading of neural activation and generation of FMs. To this end Event Related Potential (ERP) studies, behavioural studies and questionnaire-based studies were planned and carried out.

An experiment has been run, which will provide ERP data on the neural underpinnings and time course of the generation of FMs. It will also provide behavioural data about the validity of the models suggested in the literature to explain the generation of FMs, and on the differences, at an ERP level, between true and false memories. About 55 participants were tested, and preliminary data seem to provide evidence in favour of a distinction, at an ERP level, between true and false memories.

Data were also collected, in collaboration with the'Memory and Cognition research group'at the University of Salamanca, to start investigating the relationships between associative neural networks'structural variables and the dynamics that determine the spreading of neural activation as well as, ultimately, the generation of FMs. Data collection was done administering some pen-and-paper questionnaires to more than 200 students who had to give their personal rating on the relationship between words pairs along a specific semantic dimension. Each student was required to rate 275 word-pairs. False recognition significantly correlated with 3 of the six selected semantic dimensions, indicating higher false-memory rates for critical words that had stronger semantic ties to their associates in terms of synonymy, perceptual similarity and functional similarity. These results were presented in a poster at the 23rd Annual Convention of the APS (Association for Psychological Science, Washington DC; May 26-29, 2011).

In order to get some more empirical data on FMs phenomena, while broadening the spectrum of research methodologies in this field, a preliminary experiment on FMs applied to face recognition was also run in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Granada. Results were presented in a poster presentation at the ESCOP 2011 (San Sebastian (ES); 29/9-2/10, 2011) and showed that some facial characteristics determine, more than others, the identification of a facial expression. One could therefore hypothesize that these characteristics will influence, more than others, the subsequent true or false recall of a face. This new line of investigation is quite promising and interesting, and will be further explored in the near future.