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Rozin's Research Far From Frightening

"The stakes are high when you put something in your mouth," Dr. Paul Rozin told his Berea College audience on February 23. In his informative and entertaining lecture Food is Frightening, Fun and Fundamental, Rozin explored cultural attitudes toward eating, the source and cause of disgust and many other related topics.

Paul Rozin presents his lecture.

"Humans eat everything," said Rozin. "That's what makes humans so successful." He went on to compare humans to rats and cockroaches, saying that the longevity and strength of the species lies in being willing to try new foods. "You have to learn what's edible and not edible."

Rozin is professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and a leading researcher on attitudes and behavior related to food. He used his wit, various anecdotes and his wealth of knowledge to hold the audience's attention, examining our reactions and conditioning toward food.

One subject Rozin addressed was the "innately negative" taste of spicy foods such as chili peppers. He pointed out that the taste of chili peppers is unpleasant, yet people seem to get pleasure out of eating them. "What's going on here?" he asked. Rozin then compared the enjoyment of spicy foods to the enjoyment people get from rollercoasters and sad movies. The suggestion of harm is present without the threat of any actual danger. "I call it benign masochism," Rozin said, evoking yet another laugh from the audience.

He also noted how people cannot bring themselves to eat food that something "disgusting" like a cockroach has touched, even if the cockroach is fully sterilized and essentially harmless. They are also unlikely to drink apple juice from a bedpan, or eat chocolate fudge that is molded into the shape of dog doo. Even when aware of the food's actual identity, the other associations are too strong for them to overcome their instinctive disgust. Rozin explored the origins of disgust from a psychological and social standpoint.

"I'll tell you what is funny about disgust," said Rozin."Disgust is funny." He showed the audience humorous cartoons to illustrate his point. "We love things that are frightening or upsetting."

Rozin also showed the audience results of his research comparing American dietary habits to those of the French. He spoke about statistics regarding portion sizes, fear of cholesterol and amount of energy expenditure in gathering food. Rozin has also carried out research in Japan and India.

Rozin earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago, and went on to Harvard University to earn his PhD. in biology and psychology. He began teaching psychology at the University of Pennsylvania in 1963, and currently serves as co-director of the university's Solomon Asch Center for the Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict. The center uses social psychology research to devise workable strategies for addressing conflicts with public policies worldwide.

This was the annual Berea College Science Lecture convocation. More information about Paul Rozin and his research can be found at the links below.

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