This is a dream come true. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have made a scientific discovery that should thrill those who are overweight but spend much time picturing their next meal.
The better you are at conjuring up images of yourself munching food, the less likely you are to actually overeat.
“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 Morewedge.
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 Barrack 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.