Jim Leonhardt and Jesse Catlin
Doctoral students Jim Leonhardt (left) and Jesse Catlin determined that inward-facing ad images elicit more positive responses than those facing outward because viewers find it easier to grasp the message. Steve Zylius / University Communications

UC Irvine students and community members alike recently got a good look into the world of business school research during a unique celebration: ResearchFest. Hosted by the Ph.D. program office at The Paul Merage School of Business, the all-day event showcased 16 research projects currently under way. Posters illustrated the projects, and doctoral students were present to explain their work and results.

“It’s useful for the community to see the type of research we’re doing,” says participant Kenji Klein. “The strange thing about being a Ph.D. student is that much of the work you do is on your own. You’re kind of isolated from the outside world and have no idea what everyone else is working on.

“This event allows us to share with other students and faculty from other areas – even representatives from local businesses. Their feedback fosters better research and better outcomes.”

Klein’s current project involves the burgeoning medical marijuana industry and the barriers confronting upstarts in the controversial new market, including close scrutiny by the medical community, regulatory issues and public perception.

“I’m really evaluating the entrepreneurial process by looking at an extreme case: how entrepreneurs have to fight for a market, build the rules and the regulatory system creating and allowing a market – and the unique problems they run into when their industry is quasi–illegal, like medical marijuana,” Klein says.

“Some of these issues are the same as those faced by entrepreneurs in post-socialist economies. How new types of businesses become legitimate is what I’m exploring.”

In contrast, doctoral students Jim Leonhardt and Jesse Catlin are studying a well-established industry: advertising.

“It’s widely known that certain advertising techniques generate a more positive response from viewers. Our goal was to explain why,” Leonhardt says. “Part of our work explored why ad images facing inward are often more effective at conveying a message and creating a positive response than images facing outward.

“What we discovered was that it took less work by the viewer to understand the message when the images faced inward. They perceived the message more quickly, which resulted in a more positive view of the product being marketed. Humans appear to be ‘cognitive misers.’ They want to maximize what they’re doing with the least amount of mental effort.”

Catlin notes: “I think what surprised us most about our findings was the difference in reaction time to inward- versus outward-facing product images – and that it was the speed to process the message that predicted the liking. Simply put, the easier an image is to process, the more you’re going to like it.

“I guess the next challenge for us will be to determine if the alternative is true: If something is hard to process, will you have a negative perception of that product? And how could that reaction be leveraged in, say, an antismoking campaign?”

ResearchFest, established in 2008 as a collegial, walk-around-style event, is the brainchild of Professor Alladi Venkatesh.

“UCI is known for research. However, much of the research that garners the public’s attention is that done by the science departments or medical school,” Venkatesh says. “I felt it was time for the business school to share its accomplishments and be recognized for the research our students conduct.”

Professor Robin Keller, director of Merage’s doctoral program, and Noel Negrete, assistant director, organized this year’s event.

“ResearchFest is an important part of the Ph.D. experience,” Keller says. “It not only provides an outlet for students to expose their work and share findings, but it also helps them get their research organized and prepared for presentation.

“It offers students a friendly forum in which they can practice their presentation skills, garner some input and gain confidence in their research. In addition, ResearchFest gives them something to put on their resumes, and from there they can revise their research for presentation in a competitive environment.”