Which CEO candidate makes better decisions under stress?

How can an instructional video engage its audience?

How does radical propaganda turn people toward violence? And what can de-radicalize them?

Answers to such questions can flow from a new behavioral research laboratory at the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s College of Business Administration.

The $400,000 lab, financed by donations led by Union Pacific CEO Jack Koraleski and his wife, Stephanie, marries business management research and neuro-physiological feedback technology on a scale beyond dozens of behavioral labs at universities around the country.

Faculty researcher Gina Ligon said the lab is unique because of its full range of bio-sensor equipment, which can be used simultaneously, as well as the amount of equipment available to speed the gathering of information for the research.

“It’s a very rich data set,” fellow UNO researcher Leif Lundmark said, so research projects can move ahead quickly and reach conclusions that are well-supported by the lab’s data.

The lab’s equipment and software give researchers real-time clues into people’s emotions while they take tests or perform other tasks, measuring facial expressions, eye movement, pupil dilation, heart rate, brain activity, skin response and other physical signals simultaneously.

Faculty researchers Ligon, Lundmark and Erin Pleggenkuhle-Miles from the business college and Doug Derrick from the university’s College of Information Science and Technology already are working on projects funded by $2 million in outside grants.

Although located in the business college, the Jack & Stephanie Koraleski Commerce and Applied Behavioral Laboratory, or CAB Lab for short, also has heavy involvement from the information science college.

Eventually other universities may be able to use the equipment, Derrick said, but for now UNO’s researchers have plenty of projects that will occupy the laboratory’s time, in addition to using the lab for classes in management, leadership development and related courses.

The equipment comes from iMotions, a Danish developer of biometric and neuro-marketing research equipment and software with the Attention Tool brand name.

During a demonstration, Ligon took a brief computer quiz, reading questions and then picking answers from multiple choices. Eye movement trackers showed that she read several of the questions and gave answers, then quit reading the questions and just picked answers.

She was hurrying to finish.

“If you saw that in a real test, you’d know the data was just garbage,” Lundmark said.

Invitees for the laboratory’s dedication today include the Air Force’s U.S. Strategic Command at Offutt Air Force Base and the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Military interest stems in part from Ligon’s research into multinational violent extremist organizations, such as the Islamic State, including their leadership assessment, organizational innovation and succession planning.

“What is it about these groups that is so magnetic?” Ligon said. The military is interested in the management factors to determine how long-lived such radical movements may be, she said.

The Omaha group is collaborating with other researchers who have used behavioral testing with members or former members of neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups, aiming to decipher what makes some people adopt violent, radical ideas and what can lead them away from such practices.

Derrick’s research includes human interactions with computers and the connections between people’s actions and their emotions and thoughts. Lundmark’s work includes analysis of brain activity in complex business situations to improve the ways people work.

Pleggenkuhle-Miles said students will take part in the research, both as subjects and in conducting and designing projects.

Peter Hartzbech, CEO of iMotions, said the UNO “mega-lab” will support world-class biometric research and resulting publications.

The equipment also can tackle commercial questions such as the appeal of package designs, the strength of brand names, the value of training materials and even when a person becomes overloaded with information and makes decisions based on “gut feelings” rather than facts.

Other topics for the lab’s research include how entrepreneurs come up with ideas, complex problem-solving, team collaboration, biases in decision-making, the impact of social media and the emotional attraction of online advertising.

Derrick said that for researchers, the lab’s equipment is especially valuable because it supplies objective information to test theories rather than making researchers rely on subjective observations.

The UNO faculty members have had experience with the biometric equipment but decided they could accomplish more with a laboratory that had a full range of sensors and a substantial amount of equipment.

They took their laboratory proposal to UNO Business Dean Louis Pol, who found funding for the project.

When UNO’s classes ended in May, crews headed by IT technicians Derek Geschwender and David Nielsen worked with architects Holland Basham of Omaha and Gensler & Associates of Denver. They turned two classrooms at Mammel Hall, on UNO’s Aksarben campus, into a large classroom-lab space with smaller lab rooms on each side.

Students can use the rooms for study groups or other purposes in between research sessions.

Some of the equipment can be taken into the field for research, such as measuring a CEO’s reactions during a business meeting or watching people trying to cross the Mexican border into the United States.

“This is where you’re really going to understand what’s going on,” Derrick said.

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