I started the Behavioral Economics and Situational Testing (BEAST) Lab at West Virginia University in 2023. I wanted to create an environment where graduate and undergraduate students could build their knowledge and understanding of the field of behavioral economics using experimental economics. The lab currently has a team of nine graduate student research members and six undergraduate student research apprentices.

Behavioral and experimental economics are fields of economics that study human behavior in a controlled laboratory environment. The students and researchers that work in the lab study a variety of important topics including, health disparities, marginalized communities, monetary systems, identity, and education. These studies utilize computer programs that test various treatments and behaviors to measure how humans respond to economic incentives. Students get hands-on experience in the design and implementation of economic experiments that include programming skills, data analytics, economic methods, and networking with faculty at WVU and across the country. 

WVU students are eligible be a paid participant in our research projects!

Current Projects

Impacts of Non-Binding Goal Setting and Achievement on Licensing Standards by Nathaniel Burke, Ph.D. and Christine Bretschneider Fries 

We look at the role of goal setting in a labor market framework. Non-binding, in contrast to binding, goals are those that receive no punishment for failing to reach them. They are seen in many different industries and markets such as self-help, health and fitness, and financial planning. These goals are set to simply create a target or reference point in strategizing how to best reach a certain level of productivity or success. The incentive structure for non-binding goals relies on the internal or psychological motivations that occur when individuals set and achieve their goals. 

The number of occupations that require an occupational license has consistently increased in the past few decades. We use a computer-based task to measure the effect of both licenses, which are required, and certifications, which are optional, on productivity and wages in a simulated labor market. Licenses and certifications can be thought of as binding or non-binding goals in their ability to motivate and encourage productivity. However, as with any goal, there are costs associated with reaching them.

Identity Based Perceptions of Preferences by Nathaniel Burke, Ph.D. and Monica Moses 

This study aims to causally isolate and explore the impact of individual identity groups on perceived preferences in a two-phase lab experiment. The first phase elicits the actual time and risk preferences of individuals using a series of "lotteries" (double multiple price lists). The second phase solicits the perceived preferences from individuals on how they imagine certain identity groups had chosen in the first phase. The biggest objective coming from this experiment is to test if there is an information advantage to being in-group, relative to identity, meaning perceptions would be more accurately perceived and gauged, on average, for those within the same identity group. 

The implications of this behavioral-experiment are far extending in terms of accurately perceiving preferences; but I specifically narrow in on the effects of this in a health care context, for example, a patient-provider relationship. In this setting, a physician must accurately gauge the preferences of a patient, if not explicitly stated, in order to provide adequate treatment and care. In looking at how identity (ie: gender, race) impacts perceived time and risk preferences of individuals, I then use the experimental results and further extend this into health outcomes from patient-provider appointments, to see if identity and the accuracy in gauging preferences influences the efficiency and well-being in the context of physician services.

Introduction of Digital Currencies: A Macroeconomic Experiment by Samantha Borkhoche and Nathaniel Burke, Ph.D.

We are testing the introduction of both a private, digital currency, like Bitcoin, and a government-backed, fiat, digital currency, like a Central Bank Digital Currency into an economy with only a physical, fiat currency to see how agents and the economy would respond. The participants will receive different currencies in different periods and, ultimately, will get to decide which currencies to use to maximize the number of goods they can buy and trade with each other.

We are going to create an inflationary environment where the government creates money to buy goods, which should depreciate the value of the physical, fiat currency. This will cause consumers to gravitate toward the private currency. Finally, the introduction of a digital currency with no transaction costs should incentivize consumers to use the digital currency over the private currency. Based on the treatments we use, this should also help stabilize the inflationary environment we created in previous periods. The purpose and outcome of this experiment will be to understand how people will react in real life when they have to choose between different types of mediums of exchange after the monetary authorities around the world release their CBDCs.

Gender Identity and Self-Selection by Nathaniel Burke, Ph.D. and  Marisa Cameron

This project deals with gender identity and self-selection which we will address by running two separate treatments, one where groups self-select and another where they are assigned to groups. All participants will complete anagrams as a way of capturing real effort. To control for effort people may exhibit when working independently versus in groups everyone will also complete anagrams individually. The order of completing anagrams individually versus in a group will be randomized across experiment sessions. 


Through this experiment, we look to address how gender can play a role in the effort given in groups. Group work is something that is utilized frequently in a classroom setting and this type of work may have different levels of effectiveness based on someone's gender and the composition of the group. A better understanding of this could impact how people utilize group work while teaching.