Public attitudes on the ethics of deceptively planting false memories to motivate healthy behavior

Robert A. Nash*, Shari R. Berkowitz, Simon Roche

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Researchers have proposed that planting false memories could have positive behavioral consequences. The idea of deceptively planting “beneficial” false memories outside of the laboratory raises important ethical questions, but how might the general public appraise this moral dilemma? In two studies, participants from the USA and UK read about a fictional “false-memory therapy” that led people to adopt healthy behaviors. Participants then reported their attitudes toward the acceptability of this therapy, via scale-rating (both studies) and open-text (Study 2) responses. The data revealed highly divergent responses to this contentious issue, ranging from abject horror to unqualified enthusiasm. Moreover, the responses shed light on conditions that participants believed would make the therapy less or more ethical. Whether or not deceptively planting memories outside the lab could ever be justifiable, these studies add valuable evidence to scientific and societal debates on neuroethics, whose relevance to memory science is increasingly acute.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)885–897
Number of pages13
JournalApplied Cognitive Psychology
Issue number6
Early online date21 Sept 2016
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2016

Bibliographical note

© 2016 The Authors Applied Cognitive Psychology Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


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