This week, my family and I visited Walt Disney World. I first visited the amusement park in 1978, when I was 12. My father, Newt Gingrich, after losing twice, had won his third U.S. congressional race. Always a trend setter, he announced at the victory party that he would take his family to Disney World to celebrate.
That first trip was magical. My memories revolve around the monorail, the video room, small speed boats and the Small World ride. In 5 trips since then, I have attempted to replicate many of these fond childhood memories. But my most recent trip to Disney World has led me to rethink my thoughts about childhood memories.
Childhood beliefs are funny things. Our perception of our own childhood is based not only on events that happened, but on our recollections and beliefs regarding the impact of those events on our lives. Often those memories are less reality and more impression. As we grow older, we begin to wonder what was real and what was constructed to fit our version of reality?
In a recently released report, “Asparagus, a Love Story: Healthier Eating Could Be Just a False Memory Away,” (Laney, C. Experimental Psychology, 2008; vol 55: pp 291-300), researchers tested the hypothesis of whether a false positive belief about childhood could affect adult behavior. The answer they came up with was yes.
In two experiments, involving a total of 231 adult participants, researchers suggested to the participants that as children, they had loved to eat asparagus. About half thought that this false positive belief was true. Among them, their fondness for asparagus increased, as did a “greater desire to eat asparagus in a restaurant setting, and a willingness to pay more for asparagus in the grocery store.”
In other words, the belief that a positive event occurred in our childhood could affect our current tastes and our current actions. “These results demonstrate that adults can be led to believe that they had a positive food-related experience as children,” the authors concluded, “and that these false beliefs can have healthy consequences.”
If this holds true for beliefs and actions regarding food, what other beliefs might we be able to alter and what other actions might we be able to initiate simply by remembering things a little differently? Could we plant false positive beliefs in our own minds with the goal of changing our actions and outcomes?
Walt Disney World bills itself as a place “Where Dreams Come True,” a place where magic and reality coexist. Often cast members (as the staff are called) recount stories that might not be true, but assist in Disney’s mission of making dreams come true. On this trip, one of the cast members warned my children that if they hit the red button on Dumbo, it would leave the ride and fly over the Magic Kingdom. After a few minutes of thought, they asked if this were really true. But the cast member would not say, leaving my children to make up their own minds.
The suggestion had some impact: when my 6-year-old son Robert and I got into the Dumbo ride, he looked around and then said to me, “There is no red button.” While Robert might not see Dumbo fly, he believes that Disney is a place where it just might happen.
What does this have to do with false positive beliefs? I was reminded this trip that, when Walt Disney was building his dream, he was often told that it was not possible, but he did not allow that to deter him. Possibly those around him thought he had a false positive belief regarding his dream, but he continued to believe in his dream.
In the end his dream did come true. So my question is, are childhood memories any different from adult dreams? If we believe strongly enough in our dreams might we be able to make them come true?
Disney World is simply a state of mind - Dreams can indeed come true - you just have to recast your childhood memories, and believe in them.