Schematic memory, or contextual knowledge derived from experience (Bartlett, 1932), benefits memory function by enhancing retention and speeding learning of related information (Bransford and Johnson, 1972; Tse et al., 2007). However, schematic memory can also promote memory errors, producing false memories. One demonstration is the "false memory effect" of the Deese-Roediger-McDermott (DRM) paradigm (Roediger and McDermott, 1995): Studying words that fit a common schema (e.g., cold, blizzard, winter) often produces memory for a nonstudied word (e.g., snow). We propose that frontal lobe regions that contribute to complex decision-making processes by weighting various alternatives, such as ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), may also contribute to memory processes by weighting the influence of schematic knowledge. We investigated the role of human vmPFC in false memory by combining a neuropsychological approach with the DRM task. Patients with vmPFC lesions (n = 7) and healthy comparison participants (n = 14) studied word lists that excluded a common associate (the critical item). Recall and recognition tests revealed expected high levels of false recall and recognition of critical items by healthy participants. In contrast, vmPFC patients showed consistently reduced false recall, with significantly fewer intrusions of critical items. False recognition was also marginally reduced among vmPFC patients. Our findings suggest that vmPFC increases the influence of schematically congruent memories, a contribution that may be related to the role of the vmPFC in decision making. These novel neuropsychological results highlight a role for the vmPFC as part of a memory network including the medial temporal lobes and hippocampus (Andrews-Hanna et al., 2010).
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