More on rewriting memory. Is use of this phenomenon to improve health conditions such as obesity ethical? What are the possible side effects of knowingly implanting false memories? So many questions with too few answers.
Treating Obesity By Planting False Memories; Ethical or Unethical?
We can implant false memories with increasing ease – and it may well help you to live a healthier, happier life. But what are the ethics?
Take a moment to remember an event that you experienced as a child. Pick something that’s important to you – an event that really shaped for the better the person you are today. Now ask yourself: are you sure this event truly happened?
Suppose, for example, that some well-intentioned person could have deliberately planted a vivid false memory of this fictional event in your consciousness, believing that the memory would change you in ways that would benefit your life. How would you feel to discover that this was the case? Perhaps you’d be touched that someone cared so much about your wellbeing that they would give you such a personal and life-changing ‘gift’? Or maybe outraged, that this person had brainwashed you without your consent?
The scenario sounds like a plot from a science fiction novel, but it’s not necessarily as implausible – at least in principle – as it might seem. For a start, memory researchers have known for decades that our recollections of the past are often inaccurate, and that sometimes we remember entire events that never happened at all. These false memories can occur spontaneously, but they are especially likely to occur when someone plants the seed of a false suggestion in our mind, a seed that grows into a more and more detailed recollection each time we think about it.
Could planting ‘beneficial’ false memories be the next big thing for tackling obesity, or myriad other health complaints from fear of the dentist to depression? Even if such an intervention is scientifically plausible, there still remains the fundamental question of whether it could ever be ethically justifiable.
In new research funded by the Wellcome Trust, and published in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology, we described a fictional ‘false memory therapy’ to almost one thousand members of the public from the UK and the USA. These participants were asked to imagine the case of an obese client seeking professional support for weight loss. Without this client’s knowledge, the therapist would attempt to plant false childhood events in the client’s memory – events designed to change the client’s unhealthy relationship with fatty foods. The therapist, however, would only reveal their deception many months after the therapy was complete. Our question for participants was: Would this fictional therapy be acceptable? read more at bbc.com
It would be interesting to see the research results of treating obesity with false memories. More interesting would be the Institutional Review Board view on the ethical standpoint of manipulating someone’s mind. Would pushing the envelope in this direction open a Pandora’s box of future problems?