No, Really, You Loved Asparagus As A Kid

How do you make undergraduates eat their vegetables? Trick them into believing they had a childhood love of the stuff. A team of researchers at U.C. Irvine studying implanted false memories asked 128 undergrads questions about how well they liked certain foods growing up. A week later, the students were called back and shown their results. But the researchers secretly changed the answers of one group of students to say that they loved asparagus the first time they tried it. When these students were later asked to order dishes on a hypothetical restaurant menu, those who had read falsified self-testimony about their childhood love of asparagus were significantly more likely to order it than they had been just a week earlier. No word on how effective this kind of memory implantation is outside the lab. Readers … a little help? (HT: Nudge) [%comments]


How far apart were the two incidents, and did the effect last after the one order? I am wondering whether the order is more common because people who saw the falsified result were confused by it, and were either thinking more about asparagus because of their confusion or ordering to test to see whether they actually liked it, since they appeared to have contradictory opinions on the subject.


I don't think that is all that surprising. If I was told I loved asparagus as a kid (and believed it for some reason) I think I would be more tempted to try it one more time to see if I really do like it.

Vegie Eater

I distinctly remember loving brussel sprouts as a young child - the extent that it was one of the only vegetables I ate. As an adult, I find them moderately repulsive, yet I impulsively order them at restaurants for some reason. Perhaps they don't make them like they used too, but I would suggest its more along the lines of this study.


But why did they order the asparagus? Because they thought they liked it, or because they were surprised by their answer, and wanted to try it again to see if they really liked it?


This would be rather more compelling if they had actually, say, eated asparagus and shown that they liked it, or would eat it again. As it stands the results are a long way from implying anything meaningful about the real world, except of course the ability to implant false memories, which is hardly news.


I think this works largely off of many people's unfamiliarity with asparagus. It would probably also work with mesclin greens, artichokes, parsnips, or bok choy, but probably not with broccoli, green peppers, or spinach. Things people see or hear regularly aren't going to be subject to that bias. But I'm totally going to lie to any kids I have about what they liked in the past if it has been long enough that they wouldn't immediately remember. It is a much better plan than, like my parents did, keep pushing raw or steamed vegetables in such a way that was clearly unpalatable to kids.

I think the strategy has to be to go for seasonal vegetables whenever you can, make it presentable, and say "no, this was the vegetable we had last year that you liked." But that's all for kids.


I can confirm that this is quite the success story with our 4-year-old. Whenever he refuses to eat his broccoli, we remind him how he loved it as a tiny toddler. And he eats up.

So yeah, it applies to kindergarten kids as well. :)


There is a difference between a false memory and an incorrect response to a survey question.


Whose sucker kids are these? My kids would be so onto this. Vegetables they actually *did* like last week they deny ever having anything to do with.


What is the significance of their buying asparagus? For example, I know I hated asparagus as a child with a passion, but now I love it.

Additionally, I think if I said I hated something as a child and someone told me I didn't, I would be likely to try it just to attempt to remember if my memory of the food was correct or if my answer on the questionarre was correct.

Really though, what is the point of this study?


I hated asparagus as a child, but that just happened to be because of improper preparation, canned asparagus tastes like soggy cardboard, now fresh asparagus i'll eat all day long. the even funnier part for me is my sister would invite me over for dinner and she would appologize for making asparagus (fresh baked in the oven with crushed/diced garlic & olive oil) and would ask me if i want something different, as to which I would reply not fresh is fine just don't serve me canned asparagus, this conversation would happen anytime I would come over for three years, until fianlly her husband was tired of hearing the same interaction and said something, this also happened with her and I over what size shirt I wore for 4 years.


I agree with many of the previous posters. If someone told me that I said I once enjoyed something which I'm confident I never said I did, I might try it just to confirm that no, I don't enjoy it. Of course, that won't work if it's something I've had recently, or something where there's a specific medical reason why I don't eat it. It also won't necessarily work in a study like the one designed here--I'd probably be suspicious of why they were claiming I said I liked it when I have no recollection of telling them that a week ago, which would be different from someone I know telling me that they remember me liking it at some point in the past.

Nick Robinson

This sounds similar to the 'Labeling Technique', which involves assigning a trait or belief to a person and then making a request of that person that is consistent with that label.

It often works a treat with coaching clients; for example, just state in a conversational way something like "You're a person who often overcomes adversity". Let in sink in, then a few minutes later, ask them to take some action to deal with that difficult issue they want to address. Perfectly ethical so long as the coach truly does believe that inside that person is somebody who can deal with adversity.

It works because people like to act in a way that is consistent with their beliefs about themselves. In the example above you're helping them to adopt a useful self-belief then asking them to act in a way that is consistent with that belief.

And I can confirm it works on 6 year olds with most vegetables and fruit except raw tomatoes. Haven't thought of trying asparagus yet!





Craig, those were my thoughts exactly. I'd love to see a follow-up a month or so down the road to see if the effect persisted. Then again, it's possible people who had no prior experience with the vegetable would have discovered they liked it, and the results may skew a bit.


"Reinforced memory" is a huge problem in the legal environment...check out feature on CBS's 60 minutes in the last 3 months...the notion is that most people when faced with the combined "helping context" from law enforcement AND the possibility of "helping" identify a criminal would rather id the wrong person than say they don't see the guy in the lineup...result, innocent people who have been id'ed by a "witness"...add in the powerful emotion of nostalgia for "real" childhood memories/connections for most people and it is no wonder, these false positives are possible


Why not just find a vegetable that your kids actually DO like? Is that too obvious a solution to this problem? Tastes change as people mature; does brainwashing kids into eating asparagus now REALLY sound like good, responsible parenting to Anyone??? These scientists must be really bored, as the parents sound like fruitcakes to me. Also, this study completely overlooks the Ethics involved in manipulating and lying to children instead of Honesty and responsible parenting. What a concept.


TOTALLY happened to me with spinach! My late mother told me I liked it as a child so I dabbled and developed a love for it. Now that she's past I eat it like crazy just to feel closer to her.


This doesn't work on three year olds. My wife and I tell my daughter all the time that she used to love Sweet Potatoes when she was a baby (she really did) and she still won't touch them today. Maybe we'll wait unitl she's in college before we try and tell her she loved them as a baby.

Not quite the same thing, but if someone could figure out how to put an Ariel, "the Little Mermaid" sticker or image on asparagus (or sweet potatoes), I'm sure my daughter would love it.