It’s not ethical, but why should that stop them?

Psychology Today is running a story about instilling false memories in people, and how that might help them lose weight.

“Although it’s not ethical to create false memories in people, making an association between eating a fattening food and getting ill may be beneficial,” says Elke Geraerts, a psychologist from St. Andrews and lead author on one of the studies. “People may avoid those foods in the future.”

So, it’s not ethical to do this, but it’s okay because it’s for the fatties health, is that what they are saying?

There is a lot wrong with the study besides this:  The study participants filled out questionnaires about their food history and preferences.  Once they turned them in, the “researchers” lied to them and told them that they got sick after eating egg salad as kids.  About 1/3 refused to eat egg salad the week after that when given options of egg salad, cheese, lunch meat, and other things.  Of course, it is attributed to the false memory the “researchers” gave them.

How about, that many people just didn’t want egg salad that day?  I know I LOVE egg salad, but if it’s a choice between an egg salad sandwich and a good liverwurst on rye?  I’m going to take the liverwurst every time.  Nothing against egg salad or anything, I just like liverwurst better.

But getting back to my problem with this, the disclaimer is that it’s unethical to instill false memories.  So why is this being touted, in Psychology Today as something that may help people to lose weight?  If it’s unethical, it’s unethical.  Period.   A reputable researcher should know this.  A reputable magazine should also know this.

The article ends with Although not yet tested for combating obesity, manipulating memories could make people less hungry for fatty foods. The tough part involves getting approval to use the technique for weight loss without letting the subject in on the secret. 

Wait.  What?  It’s unethical, but the article is really seriously suggesting we do this?  That’s right.  I forgot again.  It’s for our own good, just like starving ourselves dieting and mutilating our bodies weight loss surgery is.  After all, the ends justify the means, right?  And anything to get those fatties to lose weight and stop being fat at us stop   eating all the food in the world  stop making health care costs rise just by being fat be more healthy.

Errr, yeah.  Psychology Today, if you were an individual mental health practitioner saying this, I’d be writing to the licensing board to have your license revoked.

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13 Responses

  1. Ah, yes, I see where your confusion occurred: it’s where you assumed PT is a ‘reputable magazine.’ This article should clear that misconception right up.

  2. It’s an old hypnotherapy technique to get people to eat less.

    For instance, imagine chocolate is really, (you fill in the rest).

    If it worked we’d have heard it by now.

    They need to understand that it’s not about getting people to stop eating this or that, but their overall paradigmn that is bust.

  3. I agree with wriggles.

    By the way, nice use of strikeouts! 🙂

  4. Well, if people wanted their memories manipulated it wouldn’t be so unethical, but it sounds like it doesn’t work if you ask permission because then they know you’re lying about these “memories”–which actually don’t sound so much like false memories as real memories of being lied to just now. And of course, lying to people because you think it will make them stop being fat is extremely mondo unethical and killy-rage-inducing.

  5. Egg salad strikes me as a spectacularly bad choice of food for this experiment. While you may love it, I wouldn’t eat it on a bet. So even if they could instill a false memory in me of getting sick from egg salad, it would just make me think, “Ah, so that’s why I’ve always thought it was disgusting.” No change in behavior involved. All ethics aside, does anyone thing the experiment would have been a lot more impressive if they’d used…I dunno….cookies? Because I just don’t think getting people to recoil at egg salad is all that much of an accomplishment.

  6. If researchers and the medical community were worried about ethics, there would be no one pushing WLS as a cure for obesity and diabetes. It’s been said before, but would a drug be approved by the FDA if it had as many and serious side effects/complications as WLS, or if it was as ineffective for 60% of patients as WLS is, or killed as many patients as WLS does? Probably not, but because it’s to make fat people thin, it’s ok to kill off some of us, that’s the risk we’re supposed to take in order not to offend fat-phobes tender sensibilities.

  7. Always back to false memories, huh? This research gives psychologists and memory researchers a bad name.

    I’d be curious how long the effects would last. Researchers have produced these sorts of effects for memories of getting lost in the mall, just by having leading questions, having family members lie and say the event really happened, and repeatedly presenting this to a participant–Loftus has done some great (and controversial) work with this paradigm. But they haven’t really spent a lot of time talking about how pervasive the effects are.

    I’d expect that since our encounters with food occur at least 3 times each day, that this wouldn’t hold up for very long. I saw this on the Psych Today website, and I immediately wanted to slam my head on my desk. I’m a psych grad student, and I KNOW my field is better than this dreck.

  8. Aside from everything else you’ve all said (all of which I agree with heartily), did anybody else notice that 2/3 of the people who liked egg salad chose egg salad even after being implanted with false memories of egg salad making them sick?

    Even if everyone in the 1/3 group chose something else purely because they’d been convinced they hated egg salad, it’s still not an effective ‘treatment’ if it fails two out of three times.

    Nobody would approve a method of treatment for asthma or arthritis or ulcers if it failed two thirds of the time, let alone if it were completely unethical to boot.

    Hysteria is always a bad compas to follow.

  9. This is because fat people don’t deserve ethical treatment. They are morally corrupt already, we’re just trying to save them from themselves!

  10. wriggles: The difference is, with hypnosis, the person goes in asking for change. In my opinion, hypnosis can work, but only for specific people (maybe people who believe it works, I dunno), and ethical hypnotherapists don’t implant false memories. It’s “Imagine chocolate is ______” rather than “When you were five, you got deathly ill from eating chocolate”.

    Big Liberty: Thanks! Every so often I have fun with strikeouts. Keeps me from headdesking. 🙂

    Vesta: The problem is that psychology is supposed to be worried about ethics. Even if PT isn’t a reputable magazine (and I know, it’s more pop psychology than real research and information) the fact that it’s a magazine on psychology/psychiatry makes me expect a higher ethics from it’s publishers and authors.

    Amanda: That’s why I put the word researchers in quotations. I didn’t want to sully the reputations of real researchers out there.

    Twistie: I meant to put that point in my post, but seem to have forgotten it. Thank you for making it for me! 🙂

  11. Just because a food made me sick once, doesn’t mean I won’t eat it again if I love it. I might not buy it at the same place again if it was my first time purchasing a certain food from them, and I might not eat the same amount of that food or in the same combination of foods; for example, if my gallbladder starts complaining when I eat six fried oysters and chips, I might go with four oysters next time, and/or fewer chips. I know for a fact that I got MSG headaches multiple times after eating Chinese food as a kid; I still love it today.

    And I think anyone who tries to “implant false memories” in a patient deserves to be dragged into a closet and hypnotized to believe they dropped out of high school and therefore couldn’t possibly be a licensed therapist.

  12. meowser: One time, a while back, I found a tip of a cutting knife in my pork in a restaurant. And by “Found” I mean I was chewing the peice of pork and thought there was some bone. When I pulled the pork out of my mouth to get the “bone” out, I found an extremely sharp tip of a cutting machine’s knife (probably broke off in the packaging plant). It took me a very long time before I could eat pork in restaurants after that (and I still can’t eat anything thicker than scrambled eggs and bacon at that specific restaurant chain), but I never stopped eating pork.

    And this is a real thing that happened when I was an adult. If that doesn’t stop me from eating pork (or whatever) what makes anybody think telling me I got sick from eating *fill in the blank here* will work? Especially if what they tell me is a lie.

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