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Econ Lab 02 16x9

Economic scientists want to know how you make decisions

Let's play a game: If you have a 90 percent chance of winning $300, or a 66 percent chance of winning $400, which do you choose?

The decision-making process behind those choices, how the brain reacts electrochemically, and how the body reacts biologically—pulse rate, pupil dilation—are some of the many neuroeconomics research projects going on inside the Economics Research Lab at Derring Hall.

Sheryl Ball, associate professor of economics; Alec Smith, assistant professor of economics; and their graduate and undergraduate students use eye-tracking equipment, trans-cranial direct current stimulation, and fMRIs to study how people make decisions.

These decisions can be purely individual, as in the gamble above or the choice of whether to eat a salad or a hamburger for lunch. They can involve a decision to share money with a second person, or they can be strategic, such as in business or playing poker. Ball said that since all decisions involve choices between options with different gains and losses, decision-making is a major topic of study in economics.

Neuroeconomics and behavioral economics research are expected to shape everything from government policy decisions to the future design of "smart cities."

Students in the lab and related classes are not all economics majors, many are majoring or double-majoring in either neuroscience, psychology or mathematics, all part of the data and decision sciences and adaptive brain and behavior research happening inside the College of Science.