Past research shows that recalling a single positive health-related experience, such as exercising, can encourage people’s subsequent healthy behaviours. In contrast, we reasoned that attempting to recall many healthy experiences might elicit a metacognitive experience of difficulty that would lead people to perceive themselves as less healthy, and perhaps to make other health-related judgments based on this perception. In two pre-registered experiments (combined N = 729), participants recalled either “few” or “many” instances of eating either healthily or unhealthily, before rating the healthiness of their diets and completing measures of their eating preferences and choices. Contrary to our predictions, our pre-registered analyses provided minimal evidence that the number of memories people retrieved affected their judgments. However, exploratory mediation analyses suggested that two counteracting effects may have occurred, whereby retrieving more (un)healthy memories led people to identify as more (un)healthy, yet also created a sense of subjective difficulty that partially or wholly negated these effects. These findings suggest that whereas probing people’s dietary memories might sometimes lead to healthier self-perceptions and dietary choices, we should also consider the possibility of backfire effects.
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- Eating behaviour
- dietary health
- memory retrieval