News at Smith

Behavioral Lab Turns 10

May 01, 2013

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On any given day, you might find a group of undergraduates in Van Munching Hall playing video games, eating snack foods or staring at computer screens. Don’t worry; these students aren’t slacking on their studies – they are helping Smith faculty with theirs.

These types of experiments and many others are conducted almost daily in the Smith School’s Behavioral Laboratory. It’s the place to be for researchers wanting to find out how human behaviors influence decisions – everything from what people purchase, to the business deals they make, to how they use information technology.

This year, the lab celebrates its 10th anniversary. In just a decade, the lab has been instrumental in a long list of research projects, resulting in 59 academic papers published in top journals. And it has seen the field of behavioral research evolve.

“It’s not enough anymore to just ask people ‘If you were planning to buy a car, would you choose a red car or a black car?’ you actually want to test their reactions to various products,” says Rebecca Hamilton, associate professor of marketing and faculty director of the lab. She says scenario-based studies in which participants imagine their reactions to products and events are “out” and studies in which participants engage in real experiences are “in.”

Behavioral research is becoming a hot area for information systems and operations researchers as well as management and marketing researchers. One reason, says Hamilton, is that these fields are being influenced by the growing popularity of behavioral economics, a field that studies the social, cognitive and emotional factors that influence people’s economic decisions. The lab has been a key resource for building a cross-functional behavioral research community called the Field Committee for Decision Sciences that integrates faculty and PhD students across the campus. This committee is chaired by Rebecca Ratner, Professor of Marketing at the Smith School, and Michael Doherty, Associate Professor of Psychology.

The Smith Behavioral Lab includes a room with 18 computer workstations, group study spaces for conducting studies with teams, eye-tracking devices to test how participants look at information on a computer screen, and the Smith eLab, a panel of participants who take part in experiments online.

Hamilton and lab manager Kathleen Haines work with faculty, PhD students and several undergraduate interns to make sure research runs smoothly in the lab. Keeping the studies interesting makes student participants willing and excited to help.

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The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and part-time MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, MS in business, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.