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Using Food to Manipulate Your Mind

How would you feel if you knew the memories from your childhood could be manipulated as easily as slightly altering your food preferences? During a study of some 330 college students, psychologists from California and Washington found those preferences were an easy target for manipulating and creating false memories in adults.

Simply, researchers were able to convince college students that as children they had become sick when eating certain foods. How did they do it?

First, students answered questions about their early eating memories. A week later, they were presented with a bogus profile that embedded a single misstatement--as kids they had gotten sick when eating pickles or hard-boiled eggs--among real memories.

This false feedback technique enabled researchers to gather data from the subjects, then use it to lend credibility to a false profile. The maneuver worked: About 40 percent of the participants confirmed in later interviews that they remembered getting sick or believed it to be true.

Compared with students whose memories were not manipulated, the believers said on questionnaires they would be much more likely to avoid eating pickles or hard-boiled eggs if offered them at a party.

In another just completed study, researchers found people who were told that they loved asparagus as children were much more drawn to that vegetable than those whose memories were left alone.

IPP Media September 3, 2004

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