Looking into Mindworks from the front door

The Center for Decision Research (CDR) at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business announces the opening of Mindworks: The Science of Thinking, the world’s first lab and interactive museum dedicated to behavioral science, located at 224 S Michigan Avenue in the heart of Chicago’s cultural corridor. Mindworks is free and open to all. 

Mindworks expects more than 20,000 visitors in its first year and aims to position itself among Chicago’s can’t-miss destinations and as a place for visitors from around the world to better understand how behavioral scientists do their work, the insights from their research, and how to translate their discoveries into everyday interventions that can help people design their best lives. The public can plan their visit by visiting www.mindworkschicago.org

“We are excited to have created a public space that is dynamic, interactive, and intellectually rigorous,” said Madhav Rajan, Dean and George Pratt Shultz Professor of Accounting at Chicago Booth. “Mindworks will greatly expand the visibility and impact of CDR, Chicago Booth, and the broader university.”

Visitors to Mindworks will experience highly interactive multimedia exhibits created by the design firm Pentagram that help tell the story of behavioral science, including how findings from research can be applied in real-world situations to help people understand and improve their lives. Visitors will also be invited to participate in academic research experiments designed by scientists at the University of Chicago, for which they will receive gift prizes such as canvas bags, t-shirts, and vouchers to nearby cultural destinations, businesses, and restaurants.

Nicholas Epley"Mindworks will be a one-of-a-kind experience where people can learn more about how their own minds work and, at the same time, contribute to ground-breaking science as participants,” said Nicholas Epley, the John Templeton Keller Professor of Behavioral Science at Chicago Booth and Faculty Director of the CDR. “It will be the only hands-on behavioral science lab in the world where you can both study and be studied simultaneously – expanding research beyond the ivory tower, into our everyday lives.”

Mindworks is located in a completely redesigned space in the historic Railway Exchange Building, an architectural landmark on Michigan Avenue.

Thaler“It is fantastic that a space devoted to the study of decision making and choice architecture is located in a building that is a landmark of that other kind of architecture,” said Richard Thaler, the Charles R. Walgreen Distinguished Service Professor of Behavioral Science and Economics at Chicago Booth, and 2017 recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his contributions to behavioral economics. “After designing the building, David Burnham’s firm decided to move in themselves. We are thrilled to be able to showcase our knowledge there, across the street from the Art Institute, and we hope visitors will find the experience informative and fun. They can also help us learn new things about how we think.”

The opening of Mindworks begins a new chapter in the history of the Center for Decision Research, while continuing the world class research operations of the CDR’s PIMCO Decision Research Laboratories.

A research assistant oversees a group study at Mindworks

In the fall of 2018, PIMCO, one of the world’s premier fixed income investment managers, and the CDR announced a partnership in support of the Center’s behavioral science research, which included the opening of a new storefront space to foster greater engagement with the public, increase the diversity of participants in research studies, and yield scientific discoveries with the potential to improve the lives of individuals and communities. In recognition of this philanthropic gift bolstering research, the CDR laboratories were renamed the PIMCO Decision Research Laboratories. 

“Behavioral science plays an increasingly important role in finance and investing,” said Emmanuel Roman, PIMCO’s Chief Executive Officer. “By understanding how human bias and error influence behavior, investors are better equipped to make investment decisions to meet their long-term goals, which is why PIMCO is proud to be a partner with the Center for Decision Research at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.”


Mindworks was conceived by faculty at Chicago Booth’s Center for Decision Research and was created by the CDR in partnership with the design firm Pentagram, the architectural firm KrueckSexton Partners, the University of Chicago Facilities Services, and Executive Construction Inc. Eight interactive exhibits allow the public to explore, in a hands-on way, a range of foundational concepts and discoveries from behavioral science. 

The marquee exhibit features two main parts. First is an infographic mural explaining the ideas of Choice Architecture and “Nudges,” a term coined by Thaler. The ideas of Choice Architecture are then applied to an interactive exhibit that deals with issues of motivation and goal setting where visitors are invited to reflect on the goals that are important to them, the perceived barriers to those goals, and strategies that people can apply in their everyday life to remove those barriers and achieve those goals. 

Guests reading the "Design Your Best Life" exhibit

Another exhibit illustrates Prospect Theory, a novel idea first proposed by the psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky (1937–1996) in 1979. Prospect theory helps us understand the predictable errors that humans make because of the tendency to feel a loss more powerfully than an equal gain. Kahneman was awarded the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economics for the theory (because Tversky died in 1996, he was ineligible, although Kahneman has often stated that he feels the two share the prize). 

A mindworks visitor stands in front of the prospect theory exhibit

The Mindworks exhibits designed by Pentagram bring the principles of behavioral science to life in an engaging and meaningful way. Visitors are invited to participate in a series of interactive installations that explore abstract theories and concepts through games, puzzles, infographics and other activities. Working with CDR, the designers developed a series of exhibits that translate the principles of behavioral science into dynamic hands-on experiences intended to produce moments of revelation and surprise.

The experiments are fun and encourage a sense of play, but also explain complex scientific ideas and produce intriguing visualizations of data. The exhibits employ the principles of data humanism––using data to uncover the human stories behind the numbers and statistics, and to challenge the idea of data as something that is impersonal and intimidating. Built around a system of pegboard panels, the modular design suggests a lab or workshop and can be easily updated with new exhibits and information.

The distinctive look extends to the visual identity Pentagram created for the exhibition. The Mindworks logo appears in modernist geometric typography that is dynamic and forward-looking while also being welcoming and approachable. The wordmark integrates a series of circles that echo the workshop design and hint at systems and data collection.

Mindworks logo
Mindworks is located in the historic Railway Exchange building, a space that is famous for the more traditional definition of architecture. The building was designed by Frederick P. Dinkelberg of D. H. Burnham & Company and is currently home to multiple architectural firms. 

Atrium at the Railway Exchange BuildingBeyond the historical significance to the City of Chicago, the Railway Exchange Building is distinct for its daylit interior space. The iconic terracotta facades on Jackson and Michigan continue inward to an ornate atrium, which has recently been re-invented with the addition of a new food hall dining concept by the DMK restaurant group.

Leveraging the atrium became an important design consideration that KSP and Pentagram used to shape Mindworks’ new space. The architecture is conceived as a series of cubes, which contain testing and interview rooms, within an open gallery to allow for clear views when entering from Michigan Avenue. The tops of the cubes are kept low to allow the high ceiled gallery to flow around and above. In conjunction with daylight cast above the cubes, simple materials of dark terrazzo flooring and blond wood were selected for ease of care and visual clarity to complement the interactive exhibition elements.

Mindworks is located in the heart of downtown Chicago, directly across Michigan Avenue from the Art Institute of Chicago, and next to two of the city’s most popular parks: Grant Park and Millennium Park, the latter of which is famous for the iconic sculpture, “Cloud Gate,” known colloquially as “The Bean.” 

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