Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Memory influences behavior in multiple ways. One important aspect is to remember in what precise context in the past a piece of information was acquired (context source monitoring). Another important aspect is to sense whether an upcoming thought, composed of fragments of memories, refers to present reality and can be acted upon (orbitofrontal reality filtering). Whether these memory control processes share common underlying mechanisms is unknown. Failures of both have been held accountable for false memories, including confabulation. Electrophysiological and imaging studies suggest a dissociation but used very different paradigms. In this study, we juxtaposed the requirements of context source monitoring and reality filtering within a unique continuous recognition task, which healthy participants performed while high-resolution evoked potentials were recorded. The mechanisms dissociated both behaviorally and electrophysiologically: Reality filtering induced a frontal positivity, absence of a specific electrocortical configuration, and posterior medial orbitofrontal activity at 200–300 msec. Context source monitoring had no electrophysiological expression in this early period. It was slower and less accurate than reality filtering and induced a prolonged positive potential over frontal leads starting at 400 msec. The study demonstrates a hitherto unrecognized separation between orbitofrontal reality filtering and source monitoring. Whereas deficient orbitofrontal reality filtering is associated with reality confusion in thinking, the behavioral correlates of deficient source monitoring should be verified with controlled experimental exploration.