Scientists Plant False Memories to Curb Drinking

Get out of our heads! Oh wait, that hangover really did happen


We'll admit it, certain staffers here may have an aversion to tequila, and it's not because we don't like the taste — the memories of one bad drinking experience can stick with you for years down the road.

As people who experienced food poisoning as a kid may know, bad experiences with foods can turn you off to that particular dish for a while. So scientists decided to test this theory with drinking by implanting false memories into people's brains.

"We do have a malleable memory," researcher Elizabeth Loftus told TIME. "This malleability allows us to correct errors when they spontaneously creep in, so that we can update them with the truth. It also allows us to live with a little fiction that might make us feel better about ourselves."

Loftus and company surveyed 147 undergraduate students, asking them about food and drink preferences. The students were then given specific profiles, some with false information about bad experiences with certain drinks. Those students were then asked to elaborate on what happened.

The study found that nearly 20 percent of the students developed false memories, and those who believed the false memories the most tended to have their tastes change even more drastically. And while it just seems wrong to tell someone that they once did something absolutely horrifyingly embarrassing while wasted on vodka, researchers also discovered that positive reinforcement was more powerful than negative.

"A manufactured memory of having 'loved' white wine before age 20 did increase [white wine's appeal]," TIME reports.


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