The Social Science Experimental Laboratory at NYU Abu Dhabi is an interdisciplinary center in which experimental work in the social sciences, including economics, political science, and sociology, is conducted. The Lab is equipped for interactive human decision-making experiments that are designed to test theoretical predictions and the properties of proposed or existing models of economic, political, or social institutions.
Studying Human Behavior and Incentives
In these experiments, developed to investigate the relationship between human behavior and incentives, the subject pool receives detailed instructions describing how financial reward will depend on participants' decisions. Interaction then takes place over a computer network as subjects anonymously connect with other participants in game-like exchanges designed to test preferences, markets and related institutions, and how individual socio-economic decisions are made. Experiments may be conducted to study the impact of varied incentives on topics such as the degrees of cooperation among a group of individuals or society, levels of risk aversion and risk affinity among groups of people, participatory behavior in the contribution to public goods, or determinants of altruism, to name a few.
The Lab, housed in NYUAD's Sama Tower, comprises 14 laptops in shielded workstations that allow a private space for each subject, and a server that connects the network. The Lab's flexible laptop-based design allows for easy mobility, enabling researchers to conduct experiments off-site, both in the UAE and in countries throughout the region. This flexibility, paired with Abu Dhabi's location at a crossroads between countries in Asia, Africa, and Europe, presents a unique opportunity to conduct behavioral research among populations that have not been extensively studied.
This Lab in Abu Dhabi has the location, potentially the resources, and certainly the mobility to be able to conduct more research throughout greater geographies in a way that is faster than otherwise possible.
Comparing fundamental behavioral findings among different cultures may yield interesting insights on the universality of human behavior, according to NYUAD Assistant Professor of Economics and Director of the Lab Chetan Dave. This may also involve discovering unique solutions and mechanisms that are implemented by societies in the region that are not established elsewhere. "For research, access matters," Dave said. "This Lab in Abu Dhabi has the location, potentially the resources, and certainly the mobility to be able to conduct more research throughout greater geographies in a way that is faster than otherwise possible."
The Lab, which became operational in May 2012, welcomes the participation of members of the UAE public who will be able to sign up as subjects on the Lab's website. The Lab functions as an important tool for social scientists to complete an important step in the scientific method — gathering data to measure against hypotheses and theories where naturally occurring data may not be available.
In addition to verifying academic models and theories, this research may take the form of testing practical applications for levels of efficiency. For example, incentives within a proposed policy reform may be evaluated in a controlled lab setting before allocating considerable funds and resources for implementation.
Social scientists, and the Middle East region at large, will benefit significantly from this resource that will soon provide a wealth of information characterizing human behavior in the Middle East and neighboring regions.