Eating Perception Lab


Principal Investigator: Mariya Voytyuk, PhD
Faculty Researcher: Daniel Hruschka, PhD

Mapping Lay Theories of Healthy Eating

As crucial as it is to life and health, food can be a source of great anxiety as people worry about what, how, and how much to eat. In his book, Michael Pollan writes that he beliefs Americans struggle with the “omnivore’s dilemma”: since humans can eat anything, we cannot decide what we should eat. How do individuals from different backgrounds and cultures decide what health eating is? As people form their theories of what it means to eat well, they create mental models of “healthy eating”and perceive causal links between what and how one eats and their well-being in different ways.


One of the hands-on workshops: learning UCINET

Our project focuses on these lay perceptions and asks: what does healthy eating mean to individuals, how people rationalize their beliefs, and why do they think differently?


Kegan Allen | Breanna Jeter | Lauren Rohan-Kohl | Ryan Angeles | Olivia Gonzalez | Heather Thomas | Sarah Herrington | Hailee Hoffman | Jennifer Gresko

Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 7.05.16 PM

Part of the 2016 Spring Lab: Discussing data management for our smartphone pilot.

Aside from collecting the necessary data for my dissertation project, I had a list of skills I wanted my apprentices to develop during their time with my lab. Some of these skills were to gain:

  • familiarity with a variety of research methodologies
  • ability to conduct literature searches + comprehend journal articles
  • critical thinking skills + ability to work independently
  • ability to develop effective research questions
  • thematically code qualitative data
  • use quantitative and qualitative data management programs (SPSS, MaxQDA)

All of these skills (and others) were checked off our to-do list!

“This lab taught me so much about collecting and working with real data! I’m so glad I have this experience as a foundation for my future in academia” – 2016 apprentice


How did we answer the project’s research questions? We had a mixed methods approach. I chose several tools from both anthropology and psychology fields to carefully elicit detailed subjective beliefs from participants:

  • SMARTPHONE-BASED FOOD LOG (see informational video here)

Here is a PowerPoint presentation of the lab’s methods (click image below). You will find a rather comprehensive overview of all that we did.


How did we prepare data  for analysis? Take a peak at the “behind the scenes” of the project in these short lab videos below (while the apprenticeship students received these instructions in-person during meetings and workshops, I recorded the process in detail as well. This helped ensure everyone is clear on the procedures + it’s informative for other researchers interested in these methods!)



To read the detailed description of all the study protocols and results, please see my dissertation:


Also, a short write-up on some of the interview results is HERE. In this blog post, I particularly discussed perceptions of “healthy eating styles”.

Lastly, some descriptives of eating patterns from our Smartphone food log pilot (n=45) are HERE. Piloting a new method is a lot of work! Our lab learned a lot about the logistics of a smartphone study going through all the hurdles.

If you are interested in participating in any future projects, contact Mariya at Mvoytyuk(at)

%d bloggers like this: