Creating Mobile Laboratories for Studying Human Behavior: Is Unhealthy Eating a Matter of Price or Preference?

The Mobile Xlab (XlabM) is an experimental social science lab will study human behavior by building on the ubiquity and applications of smartphones. The XlabM will be able to combine real-world data with laboratory data in the field directly. The idea is to building upon the success of UC Berkeley’s Experimental Social Science Laboratory (Xlab), which is a computer-based campus facility for research on decision-making in many fields. By creating an XlabM application, researchers will be able to conduct studies on real people on such things as what they buy in the local Safeway by using GPS data. The subject’s smartphone might alert them offers such as cash or incentives for purchasing healthy versus unhealthy foods. XlabM will also enable Facebook group-based experiments since peer behavior is a powerful determinant of individual choice.

To create the prototype, researchers are combining mobile computing technologies and social networks with data mining and machine learning. This platform will be useful for a broad range of social science research in fields such as economics, public health, or consumer behavior related to travel, water consumption and energy use.