I remember a time when researchers who wanted to study human behavior had to use one-way mirrors and paper-and-pencil surveys. These days, my faculty don’t want to just ask people what they think of a product. They want to watch people use a product, and evaluate how they react to it.
That’s exactly what happens in the Smith School’s Behavioral Laboratory, which will turn 10 this year. The lab was opened in 2003 to help the Smith School’s faculty conduct studies that wouldn’t be possible without its sophisticated equipment.
Tools like our eye-trackers show researchers what people are actually looking at when they view a print advertisement, a TV commercial, a product package or a website—valuable information for marketers. Computer simulations help researchers understand how team members react to each other and their leaders during decision-making tasks.
In one study, participants sat at the lab’s computers to use two virtual DVD players. Before the experiment, most people said they would prefer to purchase the version with more features. But when they actually used the virtual DVD players, the majority found the feature-loaded version to be frustrating and hard to use. What people said they wanted turned out to be quite different from what they actually preferred when they had a chance to use the product.
This kind of practical research is a hallmark of the Behavioral Lab.
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