Braun et al. (2002) reported that it is possible to implant false memories by convincing individuals that they met Bugs Bunny at Disneyland.
Bernstein et al. (2005) showed that memory alteration has consequences from implanting false memories about participants being sick after eating pickles or eggs. This changed the likelihood of participants eating them again.
Laney et al. wanted to find out whether the implantation of positive memories could create positive consequences.
- Food History Inventory (FHI) – participants had to rate 24 items on a scale of 1-8 in terms of how sure they were that the event stated happened. Example: ‘loved asparagus the first time you tried it'. 1 = definitely did not happen; 8 = definitely did happen.
- Restaurant Questionnaire (RQ) – participants had to rate 32 dishes presented on a menu-like form with five courses on a 1 to 8 scale in terms of how likely they would be to order each dish at dinner, regardless of its price.
- Food Preference Questionnaire (FPQ) – participants rated 62 items in terms of how much they like to eat each item.
- Food Cost Questionnaire (FCQ) – participants had to choose the price they were ready to pay out of multiple options or select ‘would never buy’.
- Memory or Belief Questionnaire (MBQ) – participants had to indicate for 3 items of the FHI, whether they had a memory or experience, and specify whether they had a detailed memory, vague belief, or were sure that the event did not happen.
To find out whether giving participants false feedback about them loving to eat asparagus as a child would produce a false memory/belief.
It was a laboratory experiment, the procedure was conducted in an unnatural setting, however, the restaurant questionnaire was formatted like a menu, so that choices would mimic real-life scenarios ➔ mundane realism.
Research Design and Variables
The independent measures design was implemented as participants were allocated to either the ‘love’ or ‘control’ condition. The independent variable was whether or not the participants had a false belief about eating asparagus after receiving the false feedback. The dependent variables were the responses to the 5-self-report questionnaire.
128 participants (99 females, 29 males) were recruited using volunteer sampling from the University of California. The mean age was 20.8, and they received course credit for their participation.
Participants during week 1, came to the lab in groups of 8 and were deceived by being informed that they were taking part in a study investigating ‘food preferences and personality’. This was done to prevent demand characteristics and social desirability bias, as participants may have given false preferences to be seen as good.
5 Questionnaires were completed: FHI, RQ, Personality measure, Social desirability and Eating Habits. The last three questionnaires were distracter questionnaires to cover up the aim of the study.
During Week 2, they returned to the lab and were randomly allocated to either ‘love’ or ‘control’ conditions. They were given a report about their childhood experiences based on their questionnaires. Participants in the ‘love’ condition had the critical statement ‘you loved to eat cooked asparagus’ in their report. Those in the control condition had 3 filler items.
Participants were asked questions about the profile to ensure that they had processed the feedback. Following this, the participants completed the FHI and RQ to measure any changes in responses. They also completed the FPQ, FCQ and MBQ.
The 2 key issues the researchers wanted to investigate were:
• Whether false asparagus-related beliefs were formed.
• Whether the beliefs had consequences.
FHI of both groups were compared and for the love group (n=46) the average responses rose by 2.6 points. The control group’s responses (n=51) rose by 0.2 points.
31 participants were excluded from the results as they believed they loved asparagus and give a 5+ score on the FHI.
Memory - ability to recall specific events with some detail.
Belief - less detailed retrieval of an event.
The ‘Love’ group has a greater chance of generating a false memory/belief.
• Gave a low rating on the FHI in week one on loving asparagus.
• Gave a high rating on the FHI in Week 2.
• Gave a positive ‘memory’ or ‘belief’ on the MBQ.
48% of participants in the love condition were labelled as believers (22 participants). Believers increased an average of 4.5 points from week 1 to week 2 in the FHI. 10 had a memory. 12 had a belief.
Positive false memories can be implanted.
False beliefs have consequences on behaviour and food preference.
False belief effects:
• increased rating on loving asparagus
• increased willingness to spend on asparagus
• intention to eat in the future
• great preference for it
Investigate possible underlying mechanisms of false memory consequence. To replicate the first experiment to check the reliability of findings.
Research Method, Design and Variables
Independent measures design
Independent variable: whether the participant had a false belief or not.
Dependent variable: response to the 4 questionnaires and the slideshow.
103 undergraduate students from the University of Washington who received course credit. 64 females and 39 males with a mean age of 19.9. The 'love' group had 58 participants; the 'control' group had 45 participants.
No deception or cover story was used. In week 1, participants completed the FHI, RQ, FPQ, PM and SDS. Most of the first experiment’s procedure was repeated.
During week 2, participants were randomly allocated to the ‘love’ or ‘control’ condition. The report of the participants in the ‘love’ condition consisted of the feedback: “You loved asparagus the first time you ate it”. After participants read their profiles, they were required to give details about their memory of eating asparagus. If they did not, they were asked what might have happened. The control group did not do this. All participants were then asked about their most important food-related childhood event that the food profile did not report.
Participants were also shown a slideshow that displayed 20 photos, each for 30 seconds. They were asked to rate the photos on a scale of 1 to 8 based on:
• how appetising they found it.
• how disgusting they found it.
• the artistic quality.
• the expertise of the photographer.
Participants then completed the FHI, RQ, FPQ and MBQ. They were fully debriefed afterwards.
FHI response on loving asparagus from the love group (n=40) rose by an average of 2.5 points. control group (n=33) response increased by 1.0 points. 30 participants were excluded from the analysis.
Those who were told that they loved asparagus had a greater chance of generating a false memory or belief. 40 participants were believers.
On the RQ, neither believers nor non-believers had an increased desire to eat asparagus.
On the FPQ, believers reported a greater desire to eat asparagus.
On the photograph ratings, believers rated asparagus as more appetising and less disgusting than the ratings of non-believers.
Participants can be given false positive food beliefs and these beliefs have consequences on behaviour, food preference, and food memories. Believers are more likely to rate asparagus as more appetising and less disgusting.
The false memory was the cognitive mechanism that caused participants to process the images more positively and this is due to familiarity, or enhanced fluency.
Strengths and Weaknesses
- The sample consisted of university students. This introduces participant variables that could distort results, therefore reducing the validity of the research.
- The distractor questionnaires prevented participants from knowing the true aims of the study which in turn, controlled demand characteristics and social desirability bias. Therefore, the research has internal validity.
- The questionnaires helped to operationalize the dependent variable and, also allowed the standardised collection of data as quantitative data was gathered. Quantitative data helps in data analysis and in comparing results.
- Completing a questionnaire and ordering in real-life restaurants may not have the same outcome, therefore, there is little ecological validity.
- As the study was a snapshot study, we cannot determine how long the effects of false memories last. A longitudinal study would determine the durability of false memories on food preferences and behavioural consequences.
- The male-to-female ratio was not equal, so the results are not quite generalizable to the target population.
Application to Everyday Life
Laney et al demonstrated that it's possible to impact some people's attitude towards asparagus by giving a small amount of false information. This can be used to help people change their diets and become healthier.
The study has helped many parents to introduce new eating habits in children who are picky eaters by telling them they once loved to eat the food that they dislike.
Individual and Situational Explanations
The situational effect of Laney telling the experimental group that they loved asparagus as a child can lead individuals to develop beliefs that they did in fact love it. This shows that a piece of information from the situation had an effect on later behaviour.
There were individual differences, however: some participants in the control group liked asparagus while others in the 'love' condition failed to believe they liked asparagus as a child.