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Arizona PBS to premiere new series 'Eating Psychology' in March

Eating Psychology

ASU professor of psychology and Provost Emerita Betty Capaldi Phillips (left) is hosting a new Arizona PBS program on the biology, genetics and social and learned behaviors behind why people experience foods and eating differently.

March 21, 2016

Arizona PBS investigates the biology, genetics and social and learned behaviors behind why people experience foods and eating differently, with the premiere of the new original series, “Eating Psychology with Betty” at 11:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 22.

The series delves into the reasons why eating is a special sensory experience for everyone. Scientific studies reflect that each person differs in what causes hunger, cravings for particular foods and the amount of food consumed in a single sitting, among a variety of other habits. “Eating Psychology with Betty” is a research-based learning experience that offers insight into the psychological factors behind dietary routines.

The program is hosted by Arizona State University professor of psychology and provost emerita Betty Capaldi Phillips, who is also the founder of Obesity Solutions initiative at ASU.

“We all eat, mostly every day, an activity that is a source of great pleasure,” said Phillips. “Yet, many of us also worry we eat too much or the wrong foods. Research in the psychology of eating shows that our food preferences and eating habits are produced by our experience, which means they can be changed. My aim in the show is to present this research in an understandable way so that people can use the information to achieve their eating goals.”

“I’ve learned so many fascinating facts about food from working on ‘Eating Psychology,’ ” said series producer Emily Bernard. “I think viewers will find it interesting to see how fundamental psychology concepts like classical conditioning and Pavlov’s dog relate to eating. What makes this program stand out is that the concepts are relatable and all of the information presented is backed by research. Betty’s lessons made a huge impact on me.”

“Eating Psychology with Betty” addresses many common questions about why and how people consume food the way they do.

The series will air Tuesdays at 11:30 p.m. with encore broadcasts on the 8.2 Life channel on Fridays at 10:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m., as well as Sundays at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Highlights of the 13-episode season of “Eating Psychology with Betty” include:

A common misconception is that people either like or dislike certain foods due to their genetic composition. In reality, very few food preferences are hard-wired. “Eating Psychology with Betty” explores the few known cases in which food preferences are genetically based. Plus, discover why some people are supertasters, meaning they experience taste more intensely due to their genetic makeup. Phillips explains how to determine if you are a supertaster and what difference it makes for your taste experience and eating habits. 

People often believe they are hungry when, in reality, it’s the sight and smell of food tricking the body into believing that it is. People also eat from force of habit, whether they are truly hungry or not. Analyzing the external cues that cause hunger can help you change your eating habits.

Role of fat
People like fat because it makes food taste better: It makes sweet and salt more intense, enhances texture, and its high caloric content makes us feel full. Fat gives cooked food crunch from browning, which also enhances the taste. Phillips explains how you can change your fat eating habits.

Environmental cues
People are said to live in an “obesogenic environment” — meaning a food environment that makes people fat. People eat when they see food or others eating, and people eat based on how much it appears they were served. Thus, the environment can make people eat more. Phillips explains how you can control your eating environment, rather than having it control you.

Exposure, culture and neophobia
Learning to like familiar flavors begins prenatally, when the amniotic fluid is flavored by what your mother eats. This type of learning continues throughout life, but is particularly important before the age of 2. Phillips discusses neophobia, the fear of new, which is a characteristic of all young children and some adults in regard to new foods, and is part of the reason food flavorings and preparation are such an important part of culture.

Fantastic foods
Fantastic foods are foods that change taste in unusual ways, or are special in how they produce strong liking or craving. Phillips discusses miracle fruit, Szechuan buttons, chocolate, hot red pepper and other spices, as well as their fantastic effects.

Diets generally do not work in the long run and can be unhealthy. Phillips discusses why this is the case and how focusing on your habits and environment is more effective than focusing only on weight loss or gain.

For more information about “Eating Psychology with Betty,” including descriptions of all this season’s episodes, visit

“Eating Psychology with Betty” is made possible by the Department of Psychology at Arizona State University.

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