Auburn Spotlight, Veena Chattaraman

"Consumer and Design Sciences has an excellent reputation as a research-oriented department."
Veena Chattaraman
Professor, Consumer and Design Sciences

Spotlight Interview

Veena Chattaraman earned a master’s degree in design from the University of Cincinnati in 2002 and a doctorate in consumer sciences from The Ohio State University in 2006. She came to Auburn 10 years ago to join the faculty in the College of Human Sciences. Chattaraman was recently promoted to professor in the Department of Consumer and Design Sciences. With funding from the National Science Foundation, one of her major research projects is an intelligent smart phone app that uses natural interactive conversations to help consumers make informed purchase decisions that best fit their needs.

Can you tell us about your NSF-funded research project?

The project, “Mobile Language-Based Aids for Intelligent Decisions,” will create a solid science base for artificially intelligent decision systems, by integrating psychological decision theories with an experiential understanding of human decision-making, to enhance people’s ability to make informed consumption decisions. As consumers, we make mundane and critical decisions daily, ranging from what AC filters to buy to which health insurance plan to enroll. Insufficient time, lack of domain knowledge coupled with information overload often lead to sub-optimal choices that hurt the individual, the family, the economy and the nation. This project addresses this critical need by designing, developing and evaluating spoken language-based, mobile decision-aids, or MODA, to help consumers through ‘the process’ of reaching an informed decision.

Currently, we are using a mock store setting in Auburn’s RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification) lab to analyze interactions between consumers and service associates as they go through different types of decision-making strategies. MODA will be developed by Juan Gilbert and his computer science team at the University of Florida. My colleague in the Department of Consumer and Design Sciences, Professor Wi-Suk Kwon, is part of the consumer research team here at Auburn.

Why is this research important?

Sub-optimal consumption decisions for food, homes and health insurance underscore a variety of our nation’s problems such as obesity, home foreclosures and inadequate healthcare coverage. This project will enhance people's abilities to make informed decisions on-the-go, when they lack the knowledge, time and cognitive resources for optimal decision-making. These benefits are particularly relevant to aging users, those with cognitive, perceptual and motor impairments, and those functioning in multitasking conditions.

Why did you come to Auburn 10 years ago?

The Department of Consumer and Design Sciences, formerly known as the Department of Consumer Affairs, had and continues to have an excellent reputation as a research-oriented department with strong master’s and doctorate programs and accredited undergraduate programs. At that time, it was distinguished as one of the few departments in our discipline, where faculty members were successful in leveraging federal funding for research. I saw my interests in research and graduate education clearly aligning with the priorities of the department and these factors were instrumental in drawing me to Auburn.

To provide a little insight into who Veena is outside her research and the classroom, we asked her 10 additional questions:

What is your favorite season in Auburn? Spring...when the azaleas are blooming
What is your favorite place on campus? Spidle Hall
What is your favorite Auburn memory so far? Hooding my doctoral student during graduation
What is your favorite book? Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
If you could make a documentary, what would it be about? The Strength of Everyday Women
Which historical figure, dead or alive, would you like to have a chat with? Steve Jobs 
What has been the proudest moment of your life? Being a mother to my son
What's a cause you're passionate about? Children's education
What’s one thing you wish you knew in high school? That extracurricular activities are as important as academic interests
What's your favorite food? Dosa, a South Indian crepe made from fermented rice and lentil batter