Wharton behavioral labs fuel business research

Behavioral Lab provides researchers with valuable data for publications

· August 1, 2012, 7:49 pm

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Jing Ran | DP

Students participate in a Wharton Behavioral Labs session.


Although Penn students may know the Wharton Behavioral Lab as a way to finance their beer runs, many remain unaware of the research for which their data is used.

In 2005, a group of researchers were approved by the Wharton School to receive funding and start the Behavioral Lab. Since then, Wharton faculty and Ph.D students have used the laboratory to gather data for their research endeavors in the field of business. On occasion, other schools and departments are permitted to use the facility for research work if approved. Studies are designed and then taken to the labs to gather participants.

Currently 3,500 to 4,000 people, primarily Penn students, participate in the studies, although faculty and students from nearby universities such as Temple and Drexel, as well as other Philadelphia residents, will participate as well.

The purpose of the laboratory is to provide a space for behavioral research and data collection that will increase productivity and minimize the costs of the studies. Researchers and the laboratory staff host sessions 30-60 minutes long in Huntsman Hall and Steinberg-Dietrich Hall for five days. In a session, participants may complete surveys, work in groups or take part in experiments. They are paid $10-20, depending on the nature of the session.

The Behavioral Labs’ sessions help researchers gather information on a variety of topics, such as decision making, marketing and consumer behavior.

“Just like a chemist or a biologist … we have to research. To understand consumer behavior, we have to do research on consumers. The Behavioral Lab is a vital place to conduct research, and it is important that we teach students this kind of rigorous work,’’ said Marketing professor Jonah Berger.

The research conducted at the Wharton labs is intended for publications only and not class-related purposes, said On-Campus Coordinator Kaity Moore. Work is published in journals concerning management, marketing, public policy and social psychology. The efficiency of the sessions and data quality is very important. “We have to monitor data very carefully. We keep a record of comments, and monitor the participants and their behavior in the sessions. We also ask for experimenter feedback,” Moore said. She added that participants’ results are checked to make sure they produce reliable answers.

Wharton Behavioral Lab is working to maintain and keep improving its outreach and efficiency. For example, panels have been used to gather samples and data from sources outside of Penn. A newer project, the Wharton Advisory Panel of Executives, consists of business executives who will complete surveys. This allows the lab to study current business issues and be able to publish the results of their research. Participants will also have direct access to the results and earn points for completing surveys.

Berger believes the type of work done at the Wharton Behavioral Lab will add to business literature and have great influence in the field. But for students who take part in the labs, the financial incentive trumps the research benefits of the surveys.

Rising College junior Kelsey Cloonan has participated in the labs since spring of her freshman year. “I participate in them because they are an easy way to make some quick money. The best one was when I made $20 in 45 minutes. Most of the time I try to take them seriously because they sometimes will have little tricks. It would be better if I knew why I was doing what I was doing, then I’d take it more seriously.”

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