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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005 Sep 27;102(39):13724-31. Epub 2005 Aug 3.

False beliefs about fattening foods can have healthy consequences.

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University of Washington and Kwantlen University College, Department of Psychology, Box 351525, Seattle, WA 98195-1525, USA.


We suggested to 228 subjects in two experiments that, as children, they had had negative experiences with a fattening food. An additional 107 subjects received no such suggestion and served as controls. In Experiment 1, a minority of subjects came to believe that they had felt ill after eating strawberry ice cream as children, and these subjects were more likely to indicate not wanting to eat strawberry ice cream now. In contrast, we were unable to obtain these effects when the critical item was a more commonly eaten treat (chocolate chip cookie). In Experiment 2, we replicated and extended the strawberry ice cream results. Two different ways of processing the false suggestion succeeded in planting the false belief and producing avoidance of the food. 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.

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