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Confabulation and Creating

One simplified definition of confabulation is, “An attempt to fill in memory gaps by fabricating information or details.” (Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine.) It’s probably something our minds do regularly.

Painter Robert Genn notes it can be “the confusion of imagination with memory, and/or the confusion of true memories with false memories.”

So what does this have to do with creativity?

Genn thinks, “Perhaps it’s only with the addition of confabulation that art delivers its wizardry and magic.”

He adds, “Early researchers, such as psychologist Daniel Berlyne (1972), linked confabulation with amnesia and abnormal brain chemistry.

‘Nowadays it’s more pleasantly harnessed to the marvelous potential of the human imagination. Fantastic and spontaneous outpourings of irrelevant associations and bizarre ideas come quite naturally to ordinary creative folks.”

He thinks “Art without confabulation is the plain goods” and that “ancillary ideas, metaphors and the embellishments of truth add interest and depth to otherwise standard work.”

He finds Paul Klee’s “A Young Lady’s Adventure” (1922) a great example, in which “convoluted lines, intertwining design and off-beat symbolism weave a sensual spell.”

[The image is from his page Three examples of marvelous confabulation.]

Continued in article Marvelous confabulation, by Robert Genn.

Imagination at the extremes

In an earlier post of mine – Creative Thinking and Schizophrenia – I quoted Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D. about schizotypy, a milder version of schizophrenia, which “consists of a constellation of personality traits that are evident in some degree in everyone.”

He added, “Research confirms a link between schizotypy and creative achievement. In particular, ‘positive’ schizotypal traits such as unusual perceptual experiences and magical beliefs tend to be elevated in artists…”

Also see my post Creativity and madness: High ability and schizophrenia

Imagination can also help fuel self-limiting beliefs and anxiety.

“Our data shows us that anxiety sufferers all share a superior level of creative intellect,” Charles Linden writes in his article Creative intellect as a marker for genetic predisposition to high anxiety conditions.

Linden has defined “creative intellect” as a mental facility to “generate complex visual and notional scenarios in the creative area of the brain which can happen both consciously and subconsciously.

“Every anxiety sufferer has this mental resource which can be utilized consciously to produce superior, creative ability” – or subconsciously to help fuel anxiety.

He developed a self-help program, The Linden Method, to help people overcome anxiety.

So maybe the lesson is that unusual perceptions and magical beliefs can have a dark side – but can also support our creativity.

Confabulation and Creating

Douglas Eby

Douglas EbyDouglas Eby, MA/Psychology, is a writer and researcher on psychology and personal development related to creativity; creator of the , and author of books including [link to book site with excerpts.]
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APA Reference
Eby, D. (2019). Confabulation and Creating. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 26 Mar 2019
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