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Exploring the Psychology of Food
Abby Cohen, Eller Marketing ’15

By Liz Warren-Pederson

Abby Cohen Photo courtesy Abby Cohen.

Abby Cohen
Photo courtesy Abby Cohen.

Abby Cohen grew up in Park City, Utah, where she was active in basketball and golf in high school. When the time came to choose a college, she looked at out-of-state options that offered strong business programs. Her brother led her to the UA.

“He is two years older than me and was in the middle of his junior year at the UA when I was making my decision,” she explained. “He had a great experience here at the UA attending athletic events, getting involved, and pursuing finance and mechanical engineering degrees. Based on his experience, I felt the UA would be a great fit for me, as well.”

Initially, Cohen imagined herself going into the restaurant industry. “In high school, I loved to cook and bake,” she said. “I thought it would be fun to open my own restaurant. I felt that getting a business degree and then going to culinary school would be a step in the right direction.”

A restaurant internship her freshman year made her rethink her plans. “It’s difficult to be successful, and the long nights and weekends don’t necessarily fit with the lifestyle I want,” she said. “Plus, my interest in food expanded to nutrition and the benefits of food, rather than just its creation. 

She is working on an honors thesis on just that subject, and this summer has an internship at Cornell University with Brian Wansink and the Food and Brand Lab. “The lab performs nationally-recognized food psychology research,” Cohen explained. “Right now it is focusing on school lunchrooms, and ways that the presentation of the food can help kids make healthier choices without them knowing it.”

As one of 11 interns working at the lab, Cohen will be responsible for both a team project and her own individual work. “We will be focusing on lunchrooms, grocery stores, and ‘hidden persuaders around the household.’”

Looking ahead, she’s considering grad school. Cohen said that one of her most influential professors has been Melanie Wallendorf. “She has been amazing throughout the whole process and helping me with my honors thesis,” Cohen said. “It is such a pleasure meeting with her every week and getting to work with her one-on-one. I found her consumer behavior class extremely interesting, I think it greatly influenced my desire to keep working in the direction of food psychology.”

Sam Williams has also been influential. “I took his sales management class as a sophomore and proceeded to help form the Eller Professional Sales Club,” she said. “While I don’t know if I will choose a career in sales, he taught me that we all need those skills in order to sell ourselves and our ideas. I think the skills that I have learned in his class and in the club will stay with me forever.”

Cohen is also a resident assistant on campus, a position that has offered opportunities to apply her classwork on the job. “Having experiences to relate to while in class makes the content much more engaging,” she said.

She is also treasurer of the Eller Professional Sales Club. “Being in this club since its beginning is very rewarding,” she said. “It’s given me a chance to have an impact on many students wanting to get into Eller or just beginning their journey in Eller.”

Top image of two siblings eating food together at wooden table courtesy Shutterstock.