Let the Games Begin: Business Lab Uses Competition in Research

The Center and Laboratory for Behavioral Operations and Economics recently opened in the Naveen Jindal School of Management with one main purpose: to play games.

Both the center and its co-directors have roots in the Laboratory for Economic Management and Auctions at Pennsylvania State University. And the hope, co-director Elena Katok says, is to extend that work at The University of Texas at Dallas.

Dr. Elena Katokin the Center and Laboratory for Behavioral Operations and Economics

“We hope they’ll have fun, but we want the prime motivation to be money,” Dr. Elena Katok says of the lab volunteers. “It’s best for the research.”

“This lab is a great opportunity to test analytical models for applications,” Dr. Katok says. “There is so much that can be learned by how human beings interact in business.”

The games are a central part of the research. UT Dallas student volunteers go to the computer lab on the first floor of the JSOM building to participate in simulated business situations. They deal in everything from bargaining to auctions, and their success in the games leads to cash in their wallets.

“It’s very important that the incentives are highly controlled,” says Katok, an Ashbel Smith Professor and a professor of operations management. “We’re paying them based on how well they succeed…We hope they’ll have fun, but we want the prime motivation to be money…It’s best for the research.”

The results already have yielded their share of the unexpected. “In bargaining, we’ve been surprised by how much fairness comes into play,” says Katok, who teaches courses on purchasing and sourcing and behavioral operations.  “In some of the procurement settings, we’ve found people are more honest than maybe you would think.”

Dr. Gary Bolton

Dr. Gary Bolton wants area companies to view the lab and its research as a resource.

Katok and her co-director — and spouse — Dr. Gary Bolton prefer not to say how much a successful student can earn from the games, which are funded by the National Science Foundation and the JSOM.

Katok, who uses these competitions in her courses, says they can be part of research for other faculty and students. Other researchers need to obtain Institutional Review Board clearance from the UT Dallas Office of Research and then schedule lab time through Katok. But the spirit of the lab, filled with 34 computers specifically calibrated for business-related quantification, is definitely inclusive, Katok says.

Bolton, holder of the O.P. Jindal Chair and a professor of managerial economics in Jindal School, says the ultimate goal is to marry published results with real-world application. “In the future, we want to be working with top companies in the area. We want them to see us as a resource.”

Katok says she and Bolton are pleased with their participants to date. “Many students here also work as managers,” she says, “so you’re getting research from people who can really understand business at a high level.”

The center also offers seminars. This school year, Dr. Damian Beil, an associate professor at the University of Michigan, gave a presentation on cost modeling in bid procurement, and Dr. Enno Siemsen, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota, lectured on the behavioral side of forecasting processes. Dr. Ben Greiner, a senior lecturer from the University of New South Wales, gave a talk on dealing with ultimatum bargaining.

Story written and reported by free-lance writer Eric Butterman

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

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