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False Memories Can Influence Future Behavior

memoryDo you know someone who claims to remember their first day of kindergarten? Or a trip they took as a toddler?

While some people may be able to recall trivial details from the past, laboratory research shows that the human memory can be remarkably fragile and even inventive.

The finding could have significant implications for a range of issues including new methods of behavioral modification to combat eating disorders.

Researchers discovered people can easily create false memories of their past with the memories influencing long-term effects on our behavior. Additionally, they found that it is possible to change long-term behaviors using a simple suggestive technique.

In a series of experiments, the researchers falsely suggested that participants had become ill after eating egg salad as a child. Afterwards, the researchers offered different kinds of sandwiches to the participants, including ones with an egg salad filling.

Four months later, the participants were asked to be in a separate study in which they evaluated egg salad as well as other foods. They were then given the same kinds of sandwiches that had been offered to them four months earlier.

Interestingly, participants who were told they had become ill as a child after eating egg salad showed a distinct change in attitudes and behavior towards this food after the experiment.

They not only gave the food lower evaluations than participants who did not develop false memories or were in the control group, but they also avoided egg salad sandwiches more than any of the other participants four months later.

The results, appearing in the August issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, “clearly demonstrate that false suggestions about childhood events can profoundly change people’s attitudes and behavior,” wrote the authors.

These findings have significant implications for the authenticity of reports of recovered memory experiences.

While previous research indicates that spontaneously recovered memories may reflect real memories of abuse, there is no such evidence for abuse memories recovered through suggestive therapy.

The results might also influence obesity treatments and dieting choices. The authors suggest that it may be possible for people to learn to avoid certain foods by believing they had negative experiences with the food as a child.

Overall, this study clearly demonstrates that false suggestions about childhood events can profoundly change people’s attitudes and behavior.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

False Memories Can Influence Future Behavior

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). False Memories Can Influence Future Behavior. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 24, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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