An experiment has just begun in the cubicles, six tiny closed-off rooms containing computers. Six students are being provided with explanations by the test leader, who can see everything that goes on in the cubicles from a control room. At the same time, we are being shown around by Marcel Boom, one of EBL’s three members of staff, who explains what is going on here.
“Prior to the experiment, the subjects will often be subjected to some subtle manipulation. For instance, the test leader will wear a white doctor’s coat, or the subjects will be offered a warm drink when they first enter. Unbeknownst to them, this is all part of the experiment.
“They will then be presented with questionnaires that will determine the degree to which the manipulations affected the choices they made,” Boom explains. “And then we will compare their answers with the answers provided by subjects from the control group, which is to say, the group that was not subjected to any manipulations.”
Electroencephalography (EEG) is being performed in another room. This technique allows a subject’s brain activity to be measured during an experiment. First-year psychology student Anush Koekasjan is lying in what looks like some kind of dentist’s chair while a female researcher attaches electrodes to her head. As a psychology student, Anush is required to serve as a test subject at EBM for twelve hours per year. “I think it’s kind of exciting,” she tells us. “This is the first time I’m undergoing EEG monitoring.”
“The subject will be given a task that requires his or her attention, involving photos,” says the researcher, who cannot provide any further details because Anush is within earshot. “Look, that’s the subject’s brain activity,” says Boom in the room next door, pointing at a monitor on which little red beams move to and fro.
EBL was founded fifteen years ago. The lab is financed by the Erasmus Research Institute of Management (ERIM) and the Institute of Psychology (IOP). It used to be operated by one man, Gerrit Jan de Bie, who has since appointed a few other people, as well.
According to De Bie, the current team has a great mixture of people. “Marcel Boom has an IT background, and he looks after the system administration and the technology involved. I deal with the financial aspects, and our third colleague, Christiaan Tieman, is the people person on the team. But at the end of the day, all three of us do a little bit of everything.”
Because if you work in a place like EBL, you need to be more than just tech savvy. You need social skills, since you are always discussing the feasibility of researchers’ ideas for experiments with the researchers. “Sometimes we’re given assignments that seem completely infeasible,” De Bie tells us. “But at the end of the day, they can always be accommodated, at least from a technological point of view.”
Some proposals are problematic from a practical point of view, though. “Once upon a time, we got a request from a researcher who wanted to induce nausea in subjects using stink bombs. We could not allow that to happen,” De Bie says, laughing. “Our test room would have smelled of manure for a week.”
However, the three men go to great lengths to enable researchers to conduct their studies. EBL even comes with a workshop where Christiaan Tieman assembles custom-made equipment to be used in scientific experiments. “These are devices that you can’t buy in any shops because they have been completely tailored to the researchers’ requirements,” says Marcel Boom.
In order to keep up with the rest of the world, EBL seeks to conduct more advanced research over the next few years. “We wish to conduct research involving virtual reality and mobile data. We want to carry out research outside these lab cubicles, in the world outside, through apps on people’s phones. But that will require a major financial injection.”