Behavioral Lab Turns 10
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
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