Distorted Memory Hold the Cheesecake!
Are you the sort of person who acts on impulse much of the time? It may mean your memories can be a little distorted. I’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet.
May: At a broad level, we’re trying to understand why impulsive people have a hard time following through on their goals.
Frank May is an assistant professor in the marketing department in the Pamplin College of Business at Virginia Tech.
May: Why do they eat junk food when they’re trying to diet? Why do they spend money when they’re trying to save? Why do they go to the party when they’re trying to get an A in the class? And the way we’re going to attack this question is through this notion of “goal progress.” Let’s say you’re on a diet. You’re trying to lose a few pounds, and somebody offers you a piece of cheesecake.
When is it okay to eat that cheesecake? It’s okay to eat that cheesecake if you’ve been doing good on your diet, if you’ve made progress towards your goals. Right? For example, if it’s been a long time since you’ve had cheesecake, or if the last few meals you’ve been eating were really low in calories. If you’ve been doing all of those things, you can have this cheesecake and it doesn’t derail your diet.
Where memory comes into play is that we’re finding that impulsive people, when they’re faced with that cheesecake, distort memories of what they did in the past to kind of create progress to make eating the cheesecake okay. If you put a piece of cheesecake in front of an impulsive person, and ask, “When was the last time you had cheesecake?” They’re going to say, “Seventeen years,” or, “How many calories was the last meal you ate?” They’re going to say, oh, they had like, 50 calories. They distort what they did in the past to create this progress so they could have the cheesecake now.
(In) prior research they kind of assumed that memories of what people had done in the past are kind of stable. Whereas in our research we’re finding that memories of what they’ve done in the past are completely unstable. When you’re looking at people and they’re pursuing their goals, you have to take into account what’s happening in the present, when asking them to evaluate what they’ve done in the past.
So, hold off on that cheesecake or not. We’ll hear more about memory and self-deception in our next program. I’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet.