Researcher Elizabeth Loftus was a media darling in the repressed memory wars of the early 1990s, using dubious science to reinforce her position that repressed memories were completely unreliable and that no sexual abuse perpetrator should ever be convicted based on recovered memory evidence.
Now she’s turned her awesome mental powers to the issue of weight loss … and once again she’s gone completely off the deep end. About the kindest thing we could say about her is, “Well, she knows how to get the media to pay attention.”
What did she do? She interviewed a bunch of college students about their childhood food and eating memories. She then lied to them, telling them that their interview data had been run through a computer, and the results concluded that they had had a traumatic experience eating strawberry ice cream as a child.
An hour later, she gave them a questionnaire, and “most of” 40% of them said they would be less likely to eat strawberry ice cream in the future. Here’s the conclusion of the abstract of the original paper:
“These findings show that it is possible to convince people that, as children, they experienced a negative event involving a fattening food and that this false belief results in avoidance of that food in adulthood. More broadly, these results indicate that we can, through suggestion, manipulate nutritional selection and possibly even improve health.
1) Lie to people about their childhoods
2) Use these lies to manipulate their eating habits
3) Pretend we have real data based on a one-hour time lag
4) Take no responsibility for the ethics of what we do … because, after all, strawberry ice cream is bad for you. Much, much worse than being lied to. In fact, in the Time article, Loftus goes so far as to suggest that “Nothing would stop a parent of an overweight child from trying this out on their kid” — though she stops short of promising results.
It’s for your own good, after all.
Oh, and by the way, even Loftus admits it didn’t work with potato chips.