TAMPA, Fla. - The new lab at USF's Muma College of Business is one of the biggest of its kind in the world. From electrodes measuring brainwaves to eye scans, they're literally getting inside the minds of consumers.
It's all to test sales and marketing tactics and decode consumer behavior.
"What we've got in the lab manager’s office is, it's kind of the control room if you will. Right here we can record what goes on in five rooms," explained Robert Hammond director of the Center for Marketing and Sales Innovation.
The rooms are used for sales role-play, allowing students to interact as they would with real business partners.
"You can think about it as trying to create a scenario in the real world. Maybe it’s a restaurant or maybe it's an office environment," continued Hammond.
They can control that environment with noise and lights. When we toured the lab, it was a slightly green hue, and there was a bit of ambient noise like you might experience in a restaurant.
Computers read consumer responses.
"On every one of these stations, we have the ability to do galvanic skin response, and this is detecting emotional arousal."
In layman’s terms, that's sweat.
One of the lab’s first studies? How we view menus. They wrap a sensor around a finger and an eye tracker measures where you look, and for how long.
They also can read expressions.
"So this is facial expressions and what we're mapping are all these points on your face, right? So if you smile, you see your cheeks, nose up; eyebrows rise,” Hammond demonstrated. “Give me surprise. If I take a look and track them, if you show me surprise, this is your jaw drop.”
It aggregates information on what attracts our attention. That's the sort of information that can allow restaurants to lay out options better.
"You started here on this big landscape but you didn't read it. Thats interesting if I was designing a menu."
The information can be viewed as hot spots, with colors clearly showing what items popped.
The study is finding people tend to search and scan versus actually read a menu. The top and left parts of the menu got more play and major spaces and titles got extra looks.
"The next part of the study is to work with the businesses and take the findings into the field and modify a menu and see, did something change based on what the restaurant wants to accomplish? Maybe they want you see the calories or a particular item," Hammond added.
You might think you're ordering off a menu. But thanks to this lab, it might be ordering for you.