June 13, 2013
Forbidden Fruits And Their Impact On The Brain
No one likes to be told that they cannot have or do something. We do not like to have things withheld from us. We want that which we cannot have. This has been true since the beginning of time. Even major religions acknowledge this (i.e. Adam, Eve, and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil). And when we cannot have something, be it a person, an activity, a food, a narcotic, or whatever, we want it all the more. The University of British Columbia (UBC) recently released a study that has findings about why that is, why we want something just because it is forbidden. The article is called ‘An Unforgettable Apple: Memory and Attention for Forbidden Objects,’ and it is published in Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience.
Here is what the researchers did to find their results (read on for these):
“For the study, groups of participants were shown images of everyday objects and told the objects were either theirs, someone else’s, forbidden to them or forbidden to everyone. Using electronic brain imaging and memory tests, researchers found the forbidden objects were recognized as well as self-owned objects.”
What they found was multifaceted. First of all, if told that the participants could not have an object (i.e. it was forbidden to them.), then their minds and brains paid more attention to the forbidden object, wanted it more, simply because they could not have it. As lead author Grace Truong, a graduate student in UBC’s Dept. of Psychology, explains it, “Our brains give forbidden objects the same level of attention as our own personal possessions.” Meaning because we cannot have it, we want it all the more.
But that is not all that the researchers at the University of British Columbia found. The study also found that “obsession is not as strong if others are also denied: when an object is forbidden to a group, the allure of the object drops dramatically.” So, if people are told that no one can have something, then we are less likely to focus on the forbidden fruit and more likely to avoid it altogether. If we have others with whom we can commiserate due to a similar state of object denial, then we will better avoid and move on from the denied object.
This explains why programs like Weight Watchers are so successful. Because dieters who use Weight Watchers meet regularly and have group support with others abstaining from certain forbidden foods, they are much more successful in losing weight. A group of people can’t have something, so that binds them and helps each individual to not obsess. This could also explain why Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and other such groups have such success amongst their participants.
I wonder if this translates beyond just forbidden fruits, so to speak? I wonder if a group dynamic is helpful in other areas of our brains, particularly emotional ones. For instance, I wonder if the reason people join group grief counseling is because the fact that others in the group feel similar loss, emptiness, and even pain helps members to cope with their own feelings?
Furthermore, how could this benefit other serious issues like bullying and prejudice? If the group dynamic has such an impact on obsessions over forbidden objects, what impact can it have in other emotional attachments?
Clearly these findings provide incredible insight into how the brain works when focusing on objects. With insight comes understanding and change, if necessary. I, for one, cannot wait to see where this study leads.
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