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Autobiographical memory specificity and restrained eating

Determining if priming memory retrieval with images of healthy/unhealthy foods would influence memory specificity and if this would be more evident in those reporting higher levels of dietary restraint.

Autobiographical memories primary

Researchers

  • Deborah Wallis
  • Jessica Moss
  • Bethany Varnam (Leicester De Montfort University)
  • Barba Dritschel (University of St Andrews)
  • Nathan Ridout (Aston University)

Research background

Our previous findings indicate that dietary restraint is associated with deficits in autobiographical memory specificity. Autobiographical memory specificity refers to the recollection of detailed memories of personally experienced events from one’s past and is intimately linked to the experience of the self, and to goal directed behaviour. Assuming that dietary restraint is a contributory factor to the deficits in AMS observed in disordered eating, increasing the salience of dietary restraint (via priming with food images) at the time of memory retrieval would be expected to worsen memory specificity

This project forms part of a programme of research with colleagues at Aston and St Andrews universities. Funding will be sought for supporting the continuation of this research.

Research aims

This study aimed to determine if priming memory retrieval with images of healthy/unhealthy foods would influence memory specificity and if this would be more evident in those reporting higher levels of dietary restraint.

How was the research carried out?

Sixty females completed measures of restraint and disinhibition (a subsample also completed measures of eating disorder symptoms) and a modified version of the autobiographical memory task. Participants were presented with positive and negative cue words (unrelated to eating) and asked to retrieve a specific memory in response to each cue. Half were primed with images of healthy foods and half with images of unhealthy foods.

Results

Participants primed with healthy food images retrieved fewer specific memories than those primed with unhealthy foods. However, contrary to predictions, this cannot be explained by increased salience of restraint or dieting, as these factors (along with drive-for-thinness) were not related to memory specificity. Interestingly, in participants primed with healthy foods bulimic symptoms were negatively associated with memory specificity for positive cues, and body dissatisfaction was positively related to memory specificity for negative cues. It is concluded that priming may provide important insights into cognitive organisation in disordered eating.