It is possible that both Moulin and Cleary are correct. The perirhinal cortex may store information about spatial relationships, rather than time, place and sequence of events, and so normal familiarity feelings could come largely from layout and configuration, backing Cleary's findings. Indeed, there may be many ways to produce false familiarity, according to psychologist Alan Brown of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, author of The déjà vu experience (Psychology press, 2004). His own experiments indicate some other possibilities. For example, he has induced the feeling by distracting volunteers while they saw a glimpse of a scene and then moments later giving them a good look. "If you take a brief glance when distracted, and look at the same scene again afterwards, it can feel like you've seen it before but much earlier," says Brown. He has also induced it by showing people images of things they had forgotten. "Just as a stomach ache can hurt the same way but be caused by lots of different processes, it could be the same way with déjà vu," he says.The entire article's well worth a read.
The real problem with explaining déjà vu, however, is not how we can get familiarity without recognition, but why it feels so disturbing. "We'd get it all the time if it were just familiarity with real experiences," says Ed Wild from the Institute of Neurology in London. He suggests that mood and emotion are also important contributors to the sensation of déjà vu. We need the right combination of signals, not just the layout of a scene but how we feel at the time, to believe something is familiar when really it is not.
Mar 25, 2009
stop me if you've read this before
Two and half years ago I linked to an article describing how scientists had learned how to create "déjà vu on demand." That kind of research is providing a window into consciousness, turns out.