Confabulation, explanation, and the pursuit of resonant meaning

Sophie Stammers

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People with dementia sometimes confabulate, offering sincere explanations of their situation which are not grounded in evidence. Similar explanation-giving behaviour occurs frequently in the non-clinical population. Some see this as evidence that clinical and non-clinical confabulations emanate from the same essential feature of cognition, a drive to provide causal theories (Coltheart in Cortex 87:62–68, 2017). Others maintain that clinical confabulations are not attempts to identify causal relations, but narratives which create and emphasise socially important meanings (Örulv and Hydén in Discourse Stud 8(5):647–673, 2006). We can reconcile these accounts, preserving the explanatory appealing features of both. I argue that humans have a tendency to imbue everyday explanations with resonant themes: ideas which strike a chord with us and render our experiences meaningful, and I explain how this is compatible with the drive to provide causal theories. Explanation-giving is a communicative, inherently social practice, and so it is not only shaped by the advantages it confers in the natural world; but also by the advantages it confers in the social world, and for related psychological functioning. As such, confabulation is an attempt to emphasise socially resonant themes, whilst also being continuous with everyday explanation giving.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
Early online date27 Nov 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 27 Nov 2018


  • confabulation
  • explanation
  • dementia
  • narrative
  • resonance
  • meaning


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