Page last updated at 14:03 GMT, Thursday, 28 August 2008 15:03 UK

Memory tricks may help fat fight

The study found that 'false memory' could 'significantly affect' behaviour

The human memory can be manipulated in ways which can have significant long-term effects on behaviour, according to research.

Psychologists at the University of St Andrew's found that it is possible to plant false memories in the human mind which can change behaviour.

The memories were planted using a simple suggestive technique.

Scientists said the findings could be used positively to treat conditions such as obesity or help with dieting.

The study found that "the human memory can be remarkably fragile and even inventive when it comes to remembering past events, often completely rewriting 'autobiographical belief'".

Dr Elke Geraerts, a lecturer at St Andrews University and associate of Maastricht University, where the study was carried out, said: "No-one has examined the possible effects of false memories on behaviour until now.

"We asked ourselves can false beliefs be sufficiently strong to alter behaviour? If one develops false memories in the laboratory, might they have an influence on one's short- and long-term attitudes and actions?"

In a series of experiments, the researchers falsely suggested that participants had become ill after eating egg salad as a child. A significant minority of participants believed this to be true, and even four months after the study were found to avoid egg salad.

Dr Geraerts added: "With obesity levels reaching epidemic proportions around the world, we could use this type of suggestive therapy for treating cases of obesity or influencing dieting choices.

"It may be possible for people to learn to avoid certain foods by believing they had negative experiences with the food as a child."


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