Economics Dept. opens research lab

The Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences’ economics department opened a computerized research lab to study economic decision-making.

Experiments are set to begin this semester once the lab has built a large enough subject pool, said Juan Carillo, a professor of economics.

The Los Angeles Behavioral Economics Laboratory in Kaprielian Hall will use its 36 computer terminals to record subjects’ decision-making strategies.

Carrillo is one of the core faculty members for LABEL. He said the lab will give USC the ability to run a variety of experiments.

Researchers can test, for example, how individuals respond to risk and how games of strategy work depending on the actions of multiple people.

LABEL’s purpose is two-fold because it can train students in research practice while generating data.

Carrillo said students will be able to run their own experiments and to gain valuable hands-on research experience.

Though Carrillo acknowledges that these experiments could be run in other labs, such as those at UCLA or Cal Tech, “the quality and amount of experiments would not be comparable to having an in-house lab.”

The economics department hopes to expand the lab to include equipment capable of recording physiological reactions, Carrillo said, making it one of the only research facilities in the United States with this comprehensive structure.

“It would put USC on the frontier of research and experiments,” Carrillo said.

Nazmul Ahsan, a graduate student studying economics, said he looks forward to conducting his own research in a lab that will set USC apart from other research universities.

Ahsan said that, because economists analyze the behavior of economic issues through theory and theories need to be tested before they are applied, the lab will let him look at theory put into practice.

“It’s a great opportunity,” Ahsan said. “It’s good to have a lab here because many universities do not have one at all.”

Student researchers will be required to go through the process of building experiment models, developing software, running multiple experiments and analyzing the resulting data.

According to Carrillo, student involvement is a vital aspect of running the lab. He said the economics department plans to train students in experimental techniques and further expand on classroom concepts.

“Students can see how theories they learn in class apply in practice,” Carrillo said.

LABEL was built in honor of Jean-Jacques Laffont, a French economist who came to USC in 2001 with the intention of instituting improvements and advancements in the department. He had hoped to one day build an experimental lab at USC, but died in 2004.

“He was such a great figure,” Carrillo said. “We thought it would be appropriate to honor him.”