Memory is subject to confabulation because it is reconstructive. Confabulation is confusing an event that happened to someone else with one that happened to you; or coming to believe that you remember something that never actually happened. There are four circumstances which confabulations are especially likely.

The first occurs when an imagined event is thought about many, many times. An example is an exaggerated story often told at family gatherings, even if the person was not at the particular gathering the incident occurred they imagine it so thoroughly they begin to think they witnessed the event. This is often called “imagination inflation” because one’s own active imagination inflates a belief that the event actually occurred.

A second instance when confabulation is likely is when the image of the event contains a lot of details. Since real events usually tend to produce more detail, great detail is usually a distinguishing fact between real and imagined. However, when an imagined even is thought about a lot more and more details are added by the person’s imagination.

The third is when the event is something that is easy to imagine. Something that takes little effort to form an image of is easy to be thought of as a real memory. In contrast, when we must make an effort to form an image, such as being in a place we have never seen or doing something completely foreign to us, our cognitive efforts apparently serve as a cue that the event did not really take place, or that we were not there when it did.

The last is when the person’s focus is on their emotional reactions to the event rather than on what actually happened. Because emotional reactions to an imagined event can resemble those that would have occurred in response to a real event, this can mislead a person into thinking the event actually happened to them. Your feelings about an event, therefore, no matter how strong, do not guarantee that the event actually happened.

Laboratory research has verified that false memories can be as stable over time as true ones. Memory is reconstructive; there is no getting around it.