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Planting False Memories of Getting Sick from Alcohol Might Reduce Drinking: Study


A new study suggests planting false memories of getting sick from alcohol may influence a person to drink less of that type of alcohol in the future.

Researchers at the University of California in Irvine studied 147 college students, who filled out a questionnaire about their eating and drinking history before age 16. They also answered questions about their experiences related to eating and drinking, such as whether they got sick after drinking too much of certain types of alcohol, such as vodka or rum. They were asked how certain they were that these experiences had actually occurred, reports. The students then rated their preferences for 63 types of foods or drinks.

After one week, they received personalized profiles based on their answers. Some of the profiles falsely said the student had become ill from either vodka or rum when they were young teens. These students were asked to talk about their experience with becoming ill from drinking. If they said they couldn’t remember it, they were told to imagine in detail what might have happened, and then discuss it. They then filled out the original questionnaire again.

Almost 20 percent of these students developed false memories about their drinking, the researchers report in the journal Acta Psychologica. Having a false memory about getting sick from drinking led students to reduce their preference for that type of alcohol, the study found.

Students who started drinking at a younger age were more likely to develop false memories. They did not have drinking problems, so their incorrect memories were unlikely to have been due to alcohol-related memory problems, the article notes.

2 Responses to this article

  1. Avatar of Muhammad Saifudin
    Muhammad Saifudin / April 16, 2013 at 3:22 am

    Seems like a stretch. Other forms of alcohol that give a desired effect would likely be substituted so I’m not sure what the benefit would be of false memories and what happens if the person does drink the specific form of alcohol and finds it did not give the effect they thought it had, would they then prefer the particular substance with the ‘bad memory’ broken. Perhaps they would be in a celebratory mood having found they’re ‘old brand’ can be used. I also wonder if peer pressure could override the false memory effect and be a stronger influence.

  2. Avatar of K. Kilburn
    K. Kilburn / April 15, 2013 at 12:55 pm

    Given that there is some evidence that people who have had gastric bypass subsequently increase their AOD use–which assumes a sort of diversion of behaviour–is there not a similar risk with aversion therapy like this?

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