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BEHAVIORAL SCIENCES LABORATORY
at The Ohio State University
1981-1987

Robert S. Owen, CET, Ph.D.
rsowen@sykronix.com
www.sykronix.com/papers/

Background
The Behavioral Sciences Lab (BSL) was built in the Ohio Stadium sometime in the early 1960s for the conduct of research on leadership.  It consisted of a Main Lab with one-way windows on two walls, an observation room for the main lab, a large general purpose research room, seven smaller rooms which could hold three or four subjects each, a terminal lab (for mainframe statistical analysis; this was before the days of microcomputers), a technician's shop, a conference room, a waiting room, and several offices.  With its one-way windows and observation rooms, sound-proofed and wired, the BSL was an ideal facility for the conduct of qualitative marketing research such as focus group and IDI (individual depth interview) research.
 

Main Lab control console


BSL Staff, ca. 1983

Top left: Bob Owen, technician
Don Walker, secretary
Eric Biefeld, mainframe programmer

Bottom left: Agnes Kinschner, administrative assistant
Dr. Robert Billings, faculty director

As a stand-alone department, the mission and client base of the BSL changed over the years. By the time that I arrived in 1981, most of its clients were social, cognitive, and I/O psychologists who were housed in the same building.  Because of this limited client base (and issues of who should rightfully pay for use of the facility), the BSL was absorbed into the Psychology Department shortly after I left to start my own Ph.D. studies in 1987.

Description
The Main Lab was equipped with remote controlled TV cameras and had an observation and control room which wrapped around the main lab on two sides with one-way (mirrored) observation windows.  Theater scrim, a material which is sheer when one is close yet blocks visibility when one is distant, covered the windows on the subject side to hide the glare of the mirrored windows; light-proof curtains were hung on the observation side to block light on windows that were not being used for observation.  Additionally, two pairs of the smaller experimental rooms were separated by one-way windows, allowing one of the pair to serve as an observation room.

During my stay, the BSL space was completely refurbished (by me) such that any research room could be connected to any other for the transfer of video, audio, TV RF, computer data, or any other sorts of signals.  It had its own internal telephone-style intercom system to allow researchers to monitor a room, researchers to talk with individual subjects in an experimental room, subjects to call the researcher or other subjects, etc.  Delivery of audio to headsets, connection of response buttons to remote computers, and such, was through twisted-pair cabling terminated with punch-down blocks in every room (standard 25-pair telephone cable).  At the time, there was no such thing as fiber optics, ethernet, the Internet, and such; even by today's level of technology, however, the BSL would still be an extremely versatile, configurable laboratory. 

The BSL also maintained and operated another research lab, Simlab, located on the West Campus.  The BSL technician (moi) also fabricated the observation labs used by clinical psychologists.

Research Example: Hemispherical Differences in Information Processing
An example of how the BSL was typically configured is a dichotimous listening study (Alice Isen and her students).  Subjects (up to five per session) were seated individually in separate rooms, each equipped with headphones and a hand-held button switch.  Different audio information was presented through the headphones to each ear of all subjects.  Of interest was hemispherical differences in how information was attended, processed and interpreted (right-brain, left-brain stuff).  Subjects were to concentrate on information presented to one ear, for a recall test later, but were to press the hand-held thumb button whenever they noticed certain types of information in the other ear.  Whenever a subject pressed a thumb button, a computer recorded the subject identification (which button was depressed) and the time location on the tape.  (Click for
details.)

Using the general-purpose twisted-pair wiring system, set-up time for the experiment was a few minutes, allowing different experiments to be scheduled back-to-back in the same rooms throughout the day.  Importantly, real-time machine-language computer programs and computer interfaces were modularized so that the equipment (programming and hardware) could be very quickly configured for this sort of experiment.