IUP lab affords unusual research opportunity
April 21, 2013 1:50 AM

Business students at Indiana University of Pennsylvania are getting a taste of consumer neuroscience research, thanks to a state-of-the-art lab in the marketing department.

Created in 2011 and funded entirely by IUP, the Consumer Neuroscience Lab is one of only a handful of such research labs in the nation housed in a marketing academic department.

“This lab transcends marketing,” department chair Parimal Bhagat said. “It requires a lot of external knowledge, like neuroscience and electrical engineering, and incorporating all these areas is very tough. It’s challenging in a positive way.”

Over the past year, IUP marketing faculty members Charlene Bebko, Bhagat and Lisa Sciulli recruited 65 students in IUP’s Eberly College of Business and Information Technology as test subjects for a study that tracked eye movements in response to print advertisements.

Students were asked to look at and respond to social-cause print advertisements designed to elicit a positive, negative or neutral emotional response. They viewed ads from organizations such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the World Wildlife Fund and The Nature Conservancy while a camera attached to a computer monitor tracked the movement of their eyes.

Students were also asked to take a survey about the ads to determine their willingness to donate to each cause after viewing the ads.

In their recent report published in the peer-reviewed scholarly journal Innovative Marketing, the faculty members detailed how this technology can be used to scientifically pinpoint how an advertisement affects a viewer. Though they are still analyzing the data from the student respondents, they hope to collect more data beginning next month.

According to Bhagat, Bebko is working to integrate electroencephalography, the measuring and recording of electrical activity of the brain, with the eye-tracking technology, which would provide a more detailed look at a viewer’s physiological response to advertisements. He acknowledges that it’s “very tough” to run both tests simultaneously because the researchers must synchronize different kinds of data signals to make the integration work.

In the future, the lab may also incorporate galvanic skin response instrumentation to measure another physical reaction. For now, department faculty members demonstrate the equipment to undergraduate marketing and other business students and will continue to involve these students as test subjects, following the guidelines set by the Institutional Review Board at IUP.

Bhagat would like to develop relationships with corporations so the department can practically apply the research from the lab in areas such as media testing, tracking shopping behaviors and salesperson performance enhancement. Hoping the lab will be self-sustained, he is working with a Pittsburgh marketing consultant to identify corporations that could benefit from this work.

Beyond print ads, the faculty researchers hope to study physiological responses to fields such as product design, website and social media usability, and iconic brands or logos.

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