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Re: A new therapeutic technique!? fires

Posted by Larry Hoover on January 4, 2006, at 7:38:59

In reply to Re: A new therapeutic technique!? alexandra_k, posted by fires on January 3, 2006, at 21:44:28

> So many questions, so little time.
> > they were put off their hard boiled egg / dill pickle?
> Strawberry ice cream was used in another study.
> The report mentioned in Health was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. I haven't found the report online.

I just read the "strawberry ice cream" study, and I have some methodological concerns, to begin with. And some comments, in general.

Here's the link again:

First, I was really put off by how many times the authors emphasized "fattening" foods in the discussion of this study. As both foods tested were fattening (I suppose) the variable is controlled. It is therefore irrelevant in drawing conclusions. Because the variable was controlled, but the results differed for the two foods on 2 out of 3 post-test measures, what they have in fact shown is that the concept of "fattening" is not relevant to the implantation of false food-related memories. Moreover, their failure to induce food avoidance in the cookie arm/Party Behaviour Questionnaire raises questions about the method's effectiveness and generalizability.

Also, if you look at the average pretest scores for the sub-groups the experimenters termed "believers" (a post hoc analysis, i.e. data mining, to begin with) you'll see that their scores were already different from the non-believers and controls. They should have tested to see if the sub-groups were significantly different, in the first place. They seem to be different before the manipulation occurred. That should have been ruled out. If they were different, the manipulation may be meaningless, because it cannot be shown that the effect doesn't arise only in a sub-population.

Do you notice what's missing from the results section? They give percentages for implantation of false memories. They give changes in mean score for food avoidance, and their significance, but not the percentage of participants who actually did respond by newly avoiding the ice cream. Three really intense changes can shift a mean score significantly with that subject pool size. What was the effectiveness of this study? How many people avoided the ice cream (did all believers avoid?)? What percentage of all manipulated subjects actually avoided the food? They don't even tell us. (I bet it's because the numbers weren't very large.)

They don't say how many people they got to *hypothetically* avoid this food in this *short-term* study. They didn't actually even offer them ice cream. They could have tested the same subjects again a month later. But they did neither. This was a thought experiment, covering one week, using university students, taking a course for credit.

So, in the end, this study is suggestive, at best. Some people may possibly have their food selections manipulated by false memories. But how are you ever going to make that work in real life. False memories for every food there is? How do you reinforce those false memories once you've implanted them?

Far too much being made of far too little, IMHO.





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