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Karlis

Could our minds be tricked

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The key to losing weight could lie in manipulating our beliefs about how filling we think food will be before we eat it, suggesting that portion control is all a matter of perception. Studies showed that participants were more satisfied for longer periods of time after consuming varying quantities of food when they were led to believe that portion sizes were larger than they actually were.

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Posted (edited)

This research highlights both of the concerns of this subforum: psychology and philosophy. The issue is the inherent limitations of human self-knowledge, and especially the inferential character of self-perception.

Satiety has long been used as an example of the phenomenon, since it is a domain most people have experience of. How often do you ask someone "Are you hungry?" and in answer, the person looks at their watch?

Why does the person look at any external device when asked about a personal internal state? Because the person doesn't know the answer to the question asked (on that occasion, anyway). Why their watch? Because being unable to answer your question, the person will answer the closely related question, "Is this a reasoanble time to eat?" In other words, the person calculates, makes an inference about, his or her current satiety.

From the watch example, you would expect that if you could surreptitiously manipulate the person's watch, then you could influence their self-perception of hunger. If their watch is reading an hour slow (say, it shows 11 am when it's really noon), then maybe the person is more likely to say they aren't hungry. An hour fast (showing 1 pm at noon), and maybe the same person says yes... and perhaps you also get a bonus, like an emphatic affirmation, "Yes, I'm starving."

I think lying about portion size is a clever way to realize that thought-experiment, since it is relatively difficult to fidle with people's watches undetected. Hats off to the experiment designer, even if the outcome was ordinary. (That's not a dirty word in science!)

To answer your question, then, yes, our minds could be tricked into falsely inferring that our stomachs are satisfied, and so into producing that satisfaction (so to speak). How effective that would be as a diet control strategy would depend on what other sources of information are available.

Also, in passing, I think the article writers are correct that phrases like "hunger satisfying" might be more effective than "low calorie" or "diet." This invokes a general heuristic, well-known to New Agers, and to barbers advising men with receding hairlines. State what you want in positive terms, what you want to happen, not in negative terms, not what you are trying to resist. It is a safe bet that the positive version will be more persusasive than the negative, almost regardless of what the topic is.

The bottom line is that you can rely on knowing yourself only about as well as you know the people closest to you, and conversely, knowing yourself only about as well as those people can know you. Of course, we have an expression for that, we sometimes say that so-and-so knows me better than I know myself... as if that were something surprising.

It does seem to surprise most people, but then, that is the beginning of widom, I think, that reliable self-knowledge is hard to come by. The capacity for making mistakes, and even being outrightly deceived, is definitely a part of the difficulty.

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Edited by eight bits

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