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New behavioral lab offers NMSU researchers tools for better study results

A new facility in New Mexico State University's College of Business will help researchers interested in consumer behavior to improve the quality of data they're able to collect.


Collin Payne and Mihai Niculescu open packages of video equipment.
New Mexico State University marketing faculty members Collin Payne, left, and Mihai Niculescu work together unpacking and setting up video equipment in the new Behavioral Lab for Business Research located inside the NMSU Business Complex building. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

The Consumer Behavior Lab, housed in the Business Complex, will be available to consumer behavior researchers beginning this fall, and will offer space, equipment and software that will allow researchers to observe and collect information in a controlled environment.

Two NMSU Marketing Department faculty members, Mihai Niculescu and Collin Payne, developed the lab.

"At least half of marketing is human behavior," said Niculescu, an assistant professor specializing in human information processing and decision-making. "This facility is actually perfect for studies where we need the physical presence of the respondents."

In a highly interconnected world, it's certainly possible to conduct research on people's behaviors through online surveys or telephone polling. But these methods are limited by the fact that research subjects are merely reporting on their responses - they may or may not be entirely truthful or accurate, even when they're genuinely trying to be.

To really get the best, most useful data, behavioral researchers need to be able to observe first-hand the way people act - instead of how they think they'd act. The new lab will provide an environment for observing behavior without interference or interruption.

"To do behavioral research, you need the physical space," said Payne, an associate professor specializing in consumer behavior, social marketing and field research methodologies.

For example, researchers might seat a group of respondents in front of the television with a meal and instructions that they'll be asked some questions about what they saw on TV after they've finished eating. While the respondents are distracted by the programming, researchers could really be observing how the distraction affects the rate at which they eat their meal.

That kind of data can't be obtained without the right facility, equipment and observational opportunities.

The researchers identified an underutilized room in the Business Complex and began developing a plan to set up a lab that would feature modular furniture that could be rearranged to accommodate a study's unique needs; laptop computers and headphones for each modular station; software that can measure consumer responses to stimuli; a large television that can be used for research or web conferencing; video equipment - and even a refrigerator, for consumer behavior studies that relate to eating habits of subjects.

In total, the project cost just over $19,500, including more than $7,000 in support from the College of Business. The remaining funds came from cost savings generated by a grant to the college.

In return, the lab is expected to increase research productivity for the College of Business by as much as 50 percent over the next five years among faculty involved in human behavior research. Niculescu said the lab would also help bolster recruitment to graduate programs, serve as a training facility for undergraduate and graduate students, attract multidisciplinary collaborations that will raise the college's profile and act as a liaison with the broader business community in the region.

"One thing that the behavioral lab can also be used for is research seminars," Payne said. "We will be having Ph.D. students and also undergraduates come in here and learn more about the behavioral research process."

The built-in versatility of the lab's equipment and layout will allow it to serve many purposes for the College of Business and the university at large.

"This lab, to me, is way more than a research tool for the faculty," said Elise "Pookie" Sautter, distinguished professor of marketing and former head of the marketing department. "It can become a learning lab, and a very important instructional tool."

Interim Business College Dean Kathy Brook agreed. "The College of Business is excited by the efforts of faculty members Mihai Niculescu and Collin Payne in creating a behavioral lab," she said. "The lab should be a boon to research and teaching of doctoral students in the college and perhaps beyond."

The availability of the lab should make NMSU and the College of Business more attractive to potential faculty members and students, and is expected to help draw additional grant funding to the college.

The lab is also open to researchers outside the business college who are studying consumer behavior. For more information about the lab, visit http://cobelab.nmsu.edu, or contact Payne at crp@nmsu.edu or 575-646-6693 or Niculescu at niculem@nmsu.edu or 575-646-3341.