Getting to Know You

NYUAD social science lab conducts behavorial research with local populations that have not been extensively studied

A spacious room filled with computer cubicles, painted beige and white, with nothing on the walls, provides an unassuming environment for some of the most fascinating research of our time: the science of human behavior.

The Social Science Experimental Laboratory at NYU Abu Dhabi doesn’t need flashy decor to get to the bottom of what makes us tick.

“We have this dedicated space and computer software for human behavior experiments, one of only a few in the Middle East,” said Rebecca Morton, lab director and NYUAD professor of political science, to explore “how humans make decisions both individually and as groups.”

The lab is where human subjects participate in research studies so that social scientists can better understand what influences decision-making, from donating money to helping a stranger in trouble.

“Our lab conducts behavioral research among populations that have not been extensively studied,” she explained. For example, a recent study involving Muslim participants from Abu Dhabi examined the risks they’re willing to take when borrowing or lending money.

Morton said, “there haven’t really been studies on individual decision-making under Islamic finance. There’s a lot of research from a macro-economic or finance perspective,” but the human behavior element remains largely unexplored. This is one of the first studies to look at the extent to which people are willing to bear risks for others. The results of the study have not yet been published, but Morton thinks “it will be of interest to financial policy makers to know what influences decisions when money is at stake.”

The lab’s pool of volunteers continues to expand, Morton said, which opens doors for NYUAD researchers to explore new, interdisciplinary research questions in economics, politics, psychology, linguistics, and other fields. So far, Morton’s team has recruited more than 500 people in the UAE from various walks of life.