Autobiographical memory specificity and restrained eating: examining the influence of priming with images of healthy and unhealthy foods

Deborah J. Wallis, Jessica Moss, Bethany Varnam, Barbara Dritschel, Nathan Ridout*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Dietary restraint has been linked to deficits in the ability to recall detailed memories of personally experienced events (referred to as autobiographical memory specificity). As priming with healthy foods increases the salience of restraint it would be expected to lead to greater deficits in memory specificity. Objective: To determine if priming word cues with images of healthy or unhealthy foods would influence the specificity of memory retrieval, and if deficits in memory specificity would be more evident in those reporting higher levels of dietary restraint, or currently dieting. Methods: Sixty female undergraduates self-reported if they were currently dieting and completed measures of mood, restraint, and disinhibition, and a modified version of the autobiographical memory task. Participants were presented with positive and negative words (unrelated to eating concerns) and asked to retrieve a specific memory in response to each cue. A food image was shown prior to each word cue; half of the participants were primed with images of healthy foods and half with images of unhealthy foods. Results: As expected, participants primed with healthy foods retrieved fewer specific memories than did those primed with unhealthy foods. However, neither restraint nor current dieting behaviour was associated with memory specificity. Conclusions: Differences in memory specificity between the priming conditions cannot be explained in terms of increased salience of restraint. However, it is plausible that unhealthy images led to an increase in positive affect, which in turn improved memory specificity. Level of evidence: Level I: Evidence obtained from: at least one properly designed experimental study.
Original languageEnglish
Article number53
Number of pages8
JournalEating and Weight Disorders - Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity
Issue number1
Early online date21 Jun 2023
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jun 2023

Bibliographical note

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  • Memory-specificity
  • Dieting
  • Restraint
  • Positive affect
  • Priming


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