“These findings suggest that trying to suppress one's thoughts of desired
foods in order to curb cravings for those foods is a fundamentally flawed strategy,” said
Carey Morewedge, author of the report. “Our studies found that instead,
people who repeatedly imagined the consumption of a morsel of food — such
as an M&M or cube of cheese — subsequently consumed less of that food
than did people who imagined consuming the food a few times or performed a different
but similarly engaging task.”
Not since Professor Harold Hill discovered that students could master playing
band instruments by using the Think System in “The Music Man,” has
there been such hope for daydream believers.
“We think these findings will help develop future interventions to reduce
cravings for things such as unhealthy food, drugs and cigarettes,” said
The key to the discovery involves a process known as “habituation,” by
which imagining an experience becomes a substitute for really doing it. Thus,
in order to reduce their actual intake, participants in the study had to imagine
themselves consuming food rather than simply picturing the food itself. With
M&M candies, researchers said imagining yourself eating 30 of them, one at
a time, would likely result in you eating less when you turned to the real thing.
How far can this go? Can we imagine our way to a thicker head of hair? Is
there benefit to envisioning more digits on our paychecks?
Skeptics will point out that for over 100 years baseball fans in Chicago have
pictured the Cubs winning the World Series, but it hasn’t brought them
a championship. Donald Trump imagines himself as being a smart guy, without much
to show for it. Then there’s the fact that the world did not end last month
despite the vivid imagination of California preacher Harold Camping.
On the other hand, we all know that Rep. John Boehner devoted many months
to picturing himself as Speaker of the House and then, last fall, miraculously
attained the position. Ann Curry spent 14 years at the “Today” show
picturing herself in the anchor seat, and now look at her. And what does habituation
tell us about the future for Sarah Palin, who seems to have conjured detailed
mental images of herself in the White House — right down to what she’ll
be wearing at cabinet meetings?
In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “The future belongs to those who
believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
Right now in my dreams I’m picturing myself on a beach, looking more
fit than ever before, sipping a cocktail from a glass with one of those paper
umbrellas in it, tapping out a Pulitzer Prize-winning column on a laptop given
to me along with a personal tutorial by Steve Jobs, while Barack Obama waits
patiently to ask my advice about something as soon as Lady Gaga finishes just
one more song.
Of course, I’m counting on the fact that Prof. Morewedge and his colleagues
at Carnegie Mellon actually conducted their research, rather than just sitting
around imagining it.
(c) Peter Funt. This column was originally distributed by the Cagle Syndicate.