Paul Rozin

Professor Emeritus, Department of Psychology
School of Arts & Sciences

Paul Rozin

When did you come to Penn?
Rozin first came to Penn in 1963 and in June, became an emeritus professor. He studies cultural psychology, with a focus on understanding the role of food in human life, positive psychology, the meaning of “natural,” and positive and negative memories. He’s considered to be the world’s leading authority on disgust.

What sorts of courses have you taught here?
“I’ve taught very big classes—like 350, 400, but in the last few years, I’ve been teaching small honors seminars. I still do big lectures to big groups but it’s outside talks. I pick students who are very diverse in their backgrounds. I teach a course on food. Mostly, it’s cuisine, nutrition, psychology, medicine, and I have a number of good guest lectures and we go out to restaurants together. We meet with chefs, we go out to the New Bolton Center, we see how they raise their pigs and cows, we went to a mushroom farm in Kennett Square and we do a lot of hands-on stuff, interviewing people. It’s a lot of research in the class. It’s a course basically in how to think critically. I really love the students; I get to know them. I have four graduate students now and typically six or eight undergraduate students who do research with me. I love to do this and when I have enough seniors graduating, I have them to my house at graduation with their parents. I love to do it. I love what I do.”

How did you get interested in food as a subject of study?
“I started out as a physics major at the University of Chicago, and I didn’t like it, so I switched to math, which I loved. There was one guy in my math class who was an order of magnitude better than I was. I was doing well but I just couldn’t be in the same field as someone who was that much better than me. I went searching for fields. I took an economics course, which I didn’t like. I ended up thinking I’d like to be in biological psychology. I came to Penn as a biological psychologist, working with animals. I got tired of that and I started working with humans. I got interested in human memory and amnesia in the very beginnings of what we now call cognitive neuroscience. Then my wife [Elisabeth Rozin] wrote a cookbook [‘The Flavor-Principle Cookbook’]. It has a theory of cuisine in it that most cultures in the world put a set of simple flavors on all their simple food. Ginger root and rice wine or chili and tomato in Mexican food. I started with chili pepper—why would people put something that burns their mouth in their food. Then I got into other issues about how humans relate to food. A lot of it is why people get to like certain foods, but I got more interested in a bigger sense of how food functions in life so I did a fair amount of work on France versus the United States and how the French have a better and healthier relationship to food than we do.”

What has kept you at Penn for more than five decades?
“I like Philadelphia. I never sought an offer and I’ve turned down feelers, generally, because first of all, I like it here, but second of all, moving—you lose a year of life and once you have children, that means changing schools, so I’ve been on sabbaticals. I have too many children in Philadelphia. I have three children and three grandchildren in Philadelphia and I would not leave. I won’t go away for more than two months.” 

Tell me about your dog. 
“I’ve always had dogs. I had two dogs until recently and [Suki is] probably my last dog—she’s 14. She’s a Cairn Terrier from ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ They’re wonderful dogs, they’re very good-natured and they obviously live a long time.”