Melissa Williams
Melissa Williams

Creating knowledge and helping businesses make better decisions is the impetus for faculty in the area of Behavior & Decision Insights. Melissa Williams, assistant professor of organization & management, heads up Goizueta’s Behavioral Research Lab; during a recent interview, she shared ways the lab is enhancing research and knowledge creation.

Q: What is behavioral research, as it relates to business?

Williams: Many of us at Goizueta do behavioral research, which refers to the level of analysis that interests us. We zoom in really closely to study the individual. Psychology, and to some extent, sociology, are the basic disciplines from which we draw. We look at how the brain operates and what people’s fundamental motivations are, and apply those in an organizational context. How do people at work make decisions, respond to a task, interact with others, or resolve a dilemma?

Q: What is the value of the Behavioral Research Lab?

Williams: I’m really excited about the lab. The space can be adjusted to meet the needs of the study, transforming from a room with a fifth-floor view of Patterson Green and Jenkins Courtyard into the typical, controlled laboratory environment with blackout shades. The lab has 20 mobile stations; each includes a desk with privacy screens, an all-in-one desktop computer with video capture capability, headsets, and a wireless mouse and keyboard. What I like best is the ability to isolate one area of study and test it in an experimental, causal way. For example, how do people respond when they’re sitting next to someone working much faster than they are? Is that motivating or demotivating? The lab allows us to develop interventions for organizations, and make recommendations that we can support with data.

Q: Who can participate?

Williams: We welcome volunteers of all kinds, students and non-students, alumni and friends, anyone who wants to participate. Activities often involve games, tasks, and surveys—nothing too onerous. You can sign up on our website to be notified of studies. Also, we are open to partnering with companies and organizations to meet mutual goals.

Q: What are a few of the studies currently under way?

Williams: In my research on power and leadership, I can use the lab to give participants some temporary power and see how they respond to a task, such as dividing a pot of money. Do they take more, less, or their fair share? Others are doing consumer behavioral research—how you choose one product over another. What happens, say, if you label a product as “green”; does that make you more interested in it? Our accounting faculty is looking at how auditors decide what information is most useful and relevant to them. Do they request more information, or go with what the firm has provided?

Q: How is Goizueta uniquely equipped to be effective in this area?

Williams: One of our real strengths is the quality of our faculty and the breadth of their work. We have people working on behavioral research across topic areas and disciplines, from accounting to marketing to management. Also, we’re in this vibrant, active city with all kinds of amazing companies with which
to partner.

Q: What does the future hold for the behavioral lab?

Williams: We want to increase the number of people who stop by on a regular basis to participate in research, so we can engage the whole community. We’d also like to expand our research so that it is not all physically done in the lab, but in a real environment with employees who are facing these decisions every day.