That Twinkie you had as a child may still be sabotaging your diet. That’s because our memories of certain foods—even foods we identify as undesirable—are powerful enough to influence our decision-making process and override our preferences, according to a new study in the journal Neuron.

The study, which was conducted by psychologists at the University of Basel in Switzerland, looked at how the decision making process was influenced by memory. Thirty subjects were shown pictures of 48 snacks, including potato chips, chocolate bars, and pretzels, and asked to rank those snacks in order of preference. The pictures included an image of a location along with the snack.

Then subjects went into an MRI scanner and were told to choose repeatedly between two snacks. Only images of the locations were shown—the hungry participants were forced to recall the snacks associated with the locations.

Study participants tended to prefer the snacks they were able to better recall—and chose those snacks over snacks they had ranked higher in their initial rankings. In the control group, which was only shown pictures of snacks, results corresponded with their initial rankings.

Researchers, who focused on the areas of the brain responsible for decision making and memory in the study’s subjects, say that many of our basic everyday decisions—such as “Where should we eat?”—are based on information pulled from relevant memories.


If you're looking to snack smarter, here are some great starting points: