Bioethics Blogs

Memory, Obesity, and Free Will

By Carlie Hoffman

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Do you remember the telephone game? One child comes up with a phrase (e.g. “I love to run”) and then whispers that phrase to the child sitting next to her. This child then whispers what she heard to the child sitting next to her, and so on. By the time the phrase reaches the final child, what started out as “I love to run” could have been transformed into “She shoved a nun,” a complete distortion of the initial sentiment. Unfortunately, a similar telephone game can, and often does, occur in the popular news. This phenomenon was showcased by Dr. Marise Parent’s recent publication, which received considerable press coverage. Dr. Parent, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at Georgia State University and the speaker at our April Neuroethics and Neuroscience in the News journal club, explained how her data linking consumption of a sucrose meal to formation of a food memory was transformed into media headlines claiming “Sweets can help you stay in shape” and “Don’t skip dessert. It can help you eat healthier.” A perfect grown-up example of the telephone game at work.

Dr. Parent’s research at Georgia State focuses on memory in both humans and rodents. Parent explained that there are two major types of memory: semantic memory and episodic memory. Semantic memory refers to memories of facts (e.g. A lake is a large body of water surrounded by land), while episodic memory refers to autobiographical memories of events and experiences (e.g.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.