But Sweetie, You Love Lima Beans

From: David H Kirshner (dkirsh@lsu.edu)
Date: Mon Sep 27 2004 - 10:16:47 PDT

of possible interest, re social cognition

----- Forwarded by David H Kirshner/dkirsh/LSU on 09/27/2004 12:13 PM -----

From the New York Times, Tuesday, August 31, 2004. See
wanted=print&position= . Abstract appeared on Education Headlines of the
Eisenhower National Clearinghouse, Monday, August 30, 2004.
But Sweetie, You Love Lima Beans

By Benedict Carey

If only that very first bite of asparagus had inspired delight, and the
first taste of jelly doughnut caused a stomachache. If children's happiest
food memories were baked and not fried, leafy green rather than beefy,
think of the difference in what people might eat.

Now, think of what it might mean to change those memories - as an adult.
Psychologists in California and Washington were studying false memories
when they stumbled on a surprisingly easy target for manipulation: foods.
In a study accepted for publication in the journal Social Cognition, the
researchers describe how they fooled college students into thinking that as
children they had become sick when eating certain foods.

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

"This is called the false feedback technique, where you gather data from
the subjects and use it to lend credibility to this false profile," said
Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, a psychologist at the University of California at
Irvine who led the research.

But about 40 percent of the 336 participants confirmed in later interviews
that they remembered getting sick or believed it to be true. Compared with
a control group, the believers said on questionnaires that they would be
much more likely to avoid eating pickles or hard-boiled eggs if offered
them at a party. In another study, just completed, the researchers found
that people who were told that they loved asparagus as children were much
more drawn to that slender delicacy than those whose memories were left

Proust's reflections on tea and cookies notwithstanding, the earliest
experience of taste is as open to tampering as other memories, Dr. Loftus
said. If these revisions became permanent, they might affect how and what
people eat. "What we'd like to do now," Dr. Loftus said, "is take the
students out for a real picnic and see what happens."

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