A proposed framework for behavioral accounting research (jacob g. birnberg)


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A proposed framework for behavioral accounting research (jacob g. birnberg)

  1. 1. BEHAVIORAL RESEARCH IN ACCOUNTING Vol. 23, No. 1 2011 pp. 1–43 American Accounting Association DOI: 10.2308/bria.2011.23.1.1 A Proposed Framework for Behavioral Accounting Research Jacob G. Birnberg University of Pittsburgh ABSTRACT: Behavioral accounting research ͑BAR͒ is richer today, in the topics covered, the methods used, and the range of sub-areas of accounting in which it is performed, than ever before. This paper offers a framework within which BAR literature can be viewed as a whole rather than in segments, such as by accounting sub-areas or by research method. The framework classifies BAR by the focus of the research: the individual, group, organization, or the society within which accounting exists. The purpose of the framework is to help researchers in BAR to appreciate the insights to their research questions that can be found in BAR using another research method or studying a similar issue in another sub-area of accounting. Existing research in each of these four areas is discussed to illustrate the usefulness of the framework. In addition, behavioral research in other disciplines that could impact BAR and areas of potential future research are discussed. Keywords: behavioral accounting research. INTRODUCTION n the 20 or so years since Birnberg and Shields ͑1989͒ reviewed behavioral accounting research ͑BAR͒, the area of applied behavioral research in general and BAR in particular has burgeoned. The BAR literature has grown in breadth, depth, and complexity. This change reflects an important trend in BAR: the reference disciplines and the object of accounting and nonaccounting behavioral researchers have broadened. The behavioral decision-making and cognitive psychology literatures that stimulated a significant portion of the emerging BAR research up to the late 1980s continue to have a significant influence on BAR ͑e.g., Camerer 2001͒. In addition, the role of behavioral research has grown in other social science disciplines. Experimental economics has moved into the mainstream ͑e.g., McCaffery and Slemrod 2006͒. This literature has had an impact on BAR ͑Moser 1998; Callahan et al. 2006͒. Legal researchers, heavily influenced by the writings of Kahneman and Tversky ͑e.g., Kahneman and Tversky 1979͒, have begun to actively pursue behavioral issues ͑see Sunstein 2000͒. A strong behavioral school even has developed within finance ͑e.g., Thaler 1993; Barberis and Thaler 2003͒. Medical researchers have joined with behavioral researchers to investigate I The author thanks the two reviewers for their insightful comments, the editor for the paper, Bryan Church, not only for all his help, but also for his patience, and numerous colleagues for their help along the way. A dagger ͑†͒ at the end of select references indicates a review of the literature or a paper that includes an extensive set of references. Published Online: February 2011 1
  2. 2. 2 Birnberg issues such as how individuals react to prospective changes in the state of their health ͑Udel et al. 2005͒. Even philosophy has developed a set of experimental researchers ͑Knobe 2003; Appiah 2007͒ and a journal. Emerging methods for researching old questions are altering the form of behavioral research, such as neuroeconomics ͑Knudsen et al. 2007͒. These new tools permit researchers to go beyond the observed behaviors of the decision makers and penetrate the “black box”: that is, observe the brain’s activity during decision making. Finally, these new behavioral researchers include economic modelers who have developed richer models of economic decision makers ͑“economic man”͒ intended to explain behaviors such as cooperation ͑e.g., Rabin 1993, 1998͒, and empiricists who have utilized aggregated data to test these models ͑e.g., La Porta et al. 1997; Ittner 2007͒. The burgeoning of BAR and the expansion of disciplines that in one form or another have added “behavioral” as an adjective to one of their sub-disciplines has enriched the extant research on which BAR can draw ͑e.g., Dickhaut et al. 2003; Hannan 2005͒. However, the increased interest and diversity of methods used to research behavioral issues also leads to a blurring of the definition of “behavioral research” in general and the boundaries of BAR in particular. What was relatively clear 20 years ago is less clear today. The proliferation of research methods has meant that BAR is more than laboratory experiments, surveys, and the occasional field study. A variety of archival databases have been used to investigate essentially behavioral issues ͑Banker et al. 2000b; Ittner 2007͒. Even efficient markets researchers, who would not be considered part of the BAR community, are identifying and researching issues that clearly are intended to understand individual investors’ behaviors: most notably, anomalous behavior relative to the predictions of the efficient market ͑Sloan 1996͒. This blurring of boundaries between research thrusts has led to an often unrecognized degree of commonality across BAR thrusts. While this has obvious potential benefits that will be discussed latter, it means the boundaries used in this paper necessarily are arbitrary and subjective. In general, the questions studied and the papers cited will be related to the actual behavior of people, whether it is as individuals or collectivities of varying degrees of size or complexity ͑e.g., groups or organizations͒, as they interact with each other and/or their environment. The test used in this paper is analogous to one offered as an operational definition of obscenity: We know BAR when we see it. At the margin different people will draw the line in different places. However, there is little disagreement in the core of the research. Given the growth in BAR, any attempt to provide a detailed review of BAR in general would lead to a paper far beyond one this author could be expected to competently produce. Moreover, recently a significant number of specialized reviews have been published offering the potentially interested reader a wide variety of in-depth studies of BAR by both research topic ͑e.g., auditing, management accounting͒ and research method ͑e.g., laboratory experiments, field research͒. These reviews are cited in this paper where appropriate and review papers, or those with particularly useful reviews of the literature, are identified in the reference section of this paper. What would appear to be needed at this point in time is a framework within which the reader can integrate the diverse studies making up BAR. To do this, I will present a framework that focuses on the reference group of the studies, highlighting examples of research conducted in each focal domain using different research methods and from different accounting sub-fields within BAR. This approach not only is more parsimonious, but also permits the highlighting of a critical facet of any research: complementarities of BAR across accounting sub-fields and methods. For example, a paper dealing with audit teams may inform researchers interested in teams in management accounting, and a field study may provide a laboratory researcher with the insight needed to design a better experiment. Behavioral Research In Accounting American Accounting Association Volume 23, Number 1, 2011
  3. 3. A Proposed Framework for Behavioral Accounting Research 3 The paper consists of six sections. The first provides an overview of the paper and the framework used. The second through fifth sections discuss each of the broad categories of studies in the framework. The final section offers a brief summary of the paper. ORGANIZATION AND SCOPE OF THE REVIEW The approach used in this paper to categorize BAR is the behavioral unit that is the object of the research. Does the research study the behavior of an individual, group, etc.? Organizing studies in this manner highlights the similarities across otherwise diverse studies and is intended to facilitate intellectual exchange among accounting researchers. To do this, I must necessarily restrict the depth of the review in any section to accommodate the desired breadth of coverage. The framework is described in the next section. Like BAR, the boundaries between these categories at times are subjective. For example, a paper may cover issues appropriate for understanding both groups and organizations ͑Anderson et al. 2002͒. Framework I have elected to view the extant BAR by what I have labeled its “focus.” I define focus as the unit used to analyze the research question͑s͒. The units range from the study of individuals to the study of the environment that acts upon accounting or that accounting helps to shape. The four categories used in this review were selected because they define distinct sets of research questions.1 The categories include: • individuals, • small groups, • organizations, and • environmental conditions. Because a study’s classification is determined by the set of individuals it considers in the research question͑s͒ and/or the analysis, the categories can be viewed as constituting a series of concentric circles, with the innermost circles representing the more micro studies. The outer “rings” represent more macro studies reflecting the broader focus of the research question͑s͒. The environmental conditions category can be interpreted as the “world” within which all other events occur. Two important points should be noted. First, within the categories, particularly the individual category, there may be sub-categories. Second, studies from one category may inform studies in another, likely adjacent category. Definition and Discussion of the Categories Individuals. These studies focus on the characteristics of a single actor and/or that actor’s response to a particular accounting data set, accounting-related stimulus, or accounting-related setting. It is by far the most active of the BAR categories discussed in this paper and can be viewed as consisting of its own sub-categories. One line of individual research can be characterized by a concern with how individuals solve problems. I label these “pure choice” studies because they focus on how well any actor can solve a problem without consideration being given to the behavior of other actor͑s͒. Recently, many of these studies have investigated the manner in which the economic model ͑“economic man”͒ in some significant way does not fit the behavior we observe. The second line of research explicitly considers the role of strategic behavior in the actor’s 1 This organization is similar to Hopwood’s ͑1976, 5͒ Figure 1.1 describing the social context of accounting. He had four categories: individual needs, group pressures and control, organizational structures and control strategies, and the social economic environment. The organization used here differs from Hopwood’s by recognizing differences within the group pressures and control categories between individuals and groups. This reflects changes in BAR over the decades. Behavioral Research In Accounting Volume 23, Number 1, 2011 American Accounting Association
  4. 4. 4 Birnberg decision. In these studies the actor explicitly ͑should͒ consider the behavior of a second actor who actually is present in the setting. These studies would include negotiation ͑e.g., Fisher et al. 2000͒ or “cheap talk” ͑e.g., Zhang 2008͒. I label these “strategic studies.” Groups. Research classified as covering groups includes those studies where the relevant unit of analysis consists of a small number of individuals. Typically, the members will be viewed by the organization as affiliated ͑i.e., as acting in concert in some significant way͒. Thus, what differentiates group research from research studying participants individually or strategically interacting in dyads is the affiliation of the members. The actors are assumed to be in the same unit at the time of the study. This would exclude studies such as those where the individuals are located in different levels in a hierarchy. It is distinguished from research on organizations on two dimensions. One is pragmatic. Groups are small enough to permit the researcher to study the interaction among the multiple participants. As the size of the group increases, researchers find it more difficult to create and/or analyze the interactions ͑process͒ and the focus of the research shifts from the members of the group/organization to the organization itself. The other distinction is the focus of the research. While group research is concerned with the activities of the group’s members, organization research is concerned with the role of policy or the effect of characteristics of the organization or its environment on the organization’s accounting policy or the organization as a whole. This reflects a higher level of aggregation where the behavior of the individuals is lost. For practical purposes the upper limit of group research usually is relatively small, typically four. Organizations. As noted above, the focus of this research is on the characteristics of the unit. The entity studied may be described by the legal boundaries of a firm or a division within a larger entity. The research question often is the role played by structural characteristics such as task complexity or the organization’s accounting system design. These studies move us farther away from the characteristics of the individual discussed in the two previous categories. It identifies the individuals/groups that compose the organization by the roles they occupy rather than by focusing on the characteristics/actions of the individuals who occupy them. Environmental conditions. These studies examine the role of accounting in society. Studies included in this category reflect the interaction between accounting and society: that is, the broader world of which accounting is a part. The interaction can take the form of the external forces that shape accounting, as well as studies of the role accounting has played in shaping the world in which we live. The former may be closely related to BAR studies in organizations. For example, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s intention to privatize British Rail affected the relative roles of accounting and engineering within the organization ͑Dent 1991͒, or the potential impact of the whistleblower provisions of Sarbanes-Oxley ͑Hunton and Rose 2010; DeZoort et al. 2008͒. How the institution of standards for outputs led to the establishing of standard sizes for clothing ͑Jeacle 2003a͒ is an example of how developments in accounting ͑standard costs͒ can lead to changes in the environment ͑standard sizes͒. INDIVIDUALS The earliest BAR studies across all accounting areas were of this type and it continues to be the dominant form of BAR. Shields ͑2007͒ reported that 90 percent of the papers published in BRIA from 2004 to 2007 studied the behavior of the individual. As noted earlier, studies of the individual are of two types: individual choice studies and strategic studies. While the two share a common core of issues such as the selection of participants and the research methods utilized, they are significantly different in many other ways. Thus, this section of the paper is organized in a slightly different manner than those discussing the other elements of the framework. The first sub-section discusses issues common to both. The second sub-section discusses elements specific to individual choice studies, and the third sub-section does the same for strategic choice studies. Behavioral Research In Accounting American Accounting Association Volume 23, Number 1, 2011
  5. 5. A Proposed Framework for Behavioral Accounting Research 5 Common Issues The two types of individual choice studies share many common features. These include the research method selected and the choice of participants. Each of these is discussed below. The section also discusses differences between the traditional economic model of self-interested behavior and recent findings in the areas of interpersonal utility, trust, and cooperation found in this research. Research Methods The individual choice studies consist predominately of experiments, though some utilize surveys ͑Shields 2007͒. Experiments are particularly appropriate when the relevant dimensions of the decision environment in which the decision maker interacts with the stimulus and makes the decision are well known. Experiments have been used in BAR to examine a wide variety of questions, including internal policies, external policies, tax reporting policies, incentive systems, various types of resource allocation decisions, ethical issues, and various types of reports. The responses measured have varied from objective outcomes such as investment decisions ͑Libby and Tan 1999͒ to more subjective perceptions such as fairness ͑Evans et al. 2005͒ or trust ͑Coletti et al. 2005͒. Overall, studies of this type are the predominant form of research in BAR, particularly North American BAR, and can be found across a wide variety of topics, accounting sub-areas, and settings. Individual choice studies also utilize surveys ͑e.g., Chalos and Poon 2000; Clinton and Hunton 2001͒ and archival data ͑e.g., Banker et al. 2000a͒. Archival studies often reflect a naturally occurring experiment that permits the researcher to study behavior before and after the change ͑“stimulus”͒ has taken place. Participants A significant shift has taken place in the nature of the participants used in experimental studies. Participants in the early studies most often were students ͑undergraduate business majors and/or M.B.A. students͒. BAR studies of the individual over the past two decades, however, have required and utilized professionals as participants to a far greater degree. This is a significant difference from the disciplines from which BAR draws its theories ͑e.g., psychology͒, where the generic participant remains the norm. This reflects the differences in the two groups’ reference populations for external validity. The use of professionals as participants became necessary when BAR shifted from its initial focus of “how participants respond while playing a particular role” to “whether the skills accumulated by professionals insulate them from the negative effects of heuristics and biases when performing complex tasks” ͑e.g., Libby and Trotman 1993; Kennedy 1993͒. Students cannot simulate that accumulated experience or professional knowledge, nor can a mundane experimental task provide insight into the professional’s work. The use of professional participants in BAR implicitly assumes that the professional’s behavior in an experimental setting accurately reflects their behavior “on the job.” Fehr and Leibbrandt ͑2008͒ address this issue. They examine the cooperating behavior of fishermen both in a laboratory trust experiment and their level of cooperation to avoid over-fishing a given area. They find that the participants’ behavior in the experimental setting accurately predicted their work behavior. The broadening of the issues covered by BAR has expanded the type of professional participants required. The revival of interest in financial BAR now requires participants possessing accounting expertise. BAR investigating proposed changes in the accounting rules requires sophisticated/expert participants to test the validity of the hypotheses and enhance the study’s external validity ͑e.g., Hirst and Hopkins 1998͒. This also is true of BAR investigating anomalies Behavioral Research In Accounting Volume 23, Number 1, 2011 American Accounting Association
  6. 6. 6 Birnberg found in archival financial accounting research to generate BAR hypotheses ͑e.g., Joe 2003͒,2 as well as studies of the behavior of information providers in financial markets, such as security analysts ͑e.g., Libby and Tan 1999͒. However, many financial accounting-oriented BAR studies continue to utilize M.B.A. students as surrogates for the “naïve investor” ͑e.g., Tan and Tan 2009͒. For a review of these studies and a discussion of the issues, see Libby et al. ͑2002͒ and Koonce and Mercer ͑2005͒. An exception to the use of professionals as participants is found in experiments in management accounting. What we have learned from use of auditors and investors as participants would suggest that manager participants likely would exhibit many of the same cognitive biases as student participants ͑e.g., Kennedy 1993; Gilad and Kliger 2008͒. However, this comparability may not carry over to activities such as budgeting behavior and negotiation. See Vance et al. ͑2008͒ for an auditing example. Some researchers utilizing student participants attempt to compensate for the participants’ lack of expertise by measuring participants’ task-specific knowledge ͑e.g., so many courses in accounting or years of work experience͒. They also use measures of the participants’ general problem-solving ability, such as SAT or GMAT scores or responses to selected questions from tests of that type ͑e.g., Dearman and Shields 2005͒. For a nonaccounting study, see Burks et al. ͑2008͒. These measures typically are used to identify potentially relevant differences among inexperienced participants ͑i.e., students͒. However, Dearman and Shields ͑2005͒ use their problemsolving ability measure as an independent variable to explain why some participants exhibit nonfixated behavior while others did. One topic related to the selection of participants in which BAR has shown less interest than others of decision making-oriented research is gender differences. Non-BAR strongly suggests that this may be an issue. These studies have reported significant gender-related differences in areas such as risk taking ͑e.g., Jacobsen et al. 2007; Huang and Kisgen 2008͒, competition ͑e.g., Gupta et al. 2005͒, and negotiation behavior ͑e.g., Bowles et al. 2007͒. All these areas can be important in BAR. Those BAR studies reporting the presence ͑or absence͒ of gender-related differences in observed behavior have utilized these data in one of two ways. One uses the participant’s gender as an independent variable ͑e.g., Johnson et al. 1998͒. These studies investigate the conditions under which the participant’s gender could affect behavior. If gender differences exist, randomization may obscure their effect͑s͒. Other studies check for gender differences to be sure that they do not confound the experiment’s results ͑e.g., Booker et al. 2007; Fleischman et al. 2007͒. Future BAR may show greater awareness of the issue since SSRN in June 2009 established an ARN for “Demographics, Gender, and Diversity Accounting Abstracts.” Because of the limited research, it is an open question whether gender is as relevant an issue when professional participants are used as it is in other studies. Do their professional training and experiences override any gender issues? Two studies suggest that the differences may persist. Chin and Chi ͑2008͒, using archival data from Taiwanese audits, found that female auditors are more risk-averse and more ethical in evaluating clients’ accruals. A survey of U.S., German, Italian, and Thai fund managers ͑Beckmann and Menkhoff 2008͒ found what they describe as the “expected gender differences”: female respondents are more risk-averse and exhibit greater aversion to competition. Noneconomic Dimensions Affecting the Individual In what could be labeled “post-modern” BAR, a line of research focuses on the appropriateness of two assumptions in the traditional economic model. One is that self-interest is the sole 2 In an interesting twist, Allee et al. ͑2007͒ used archival financial accounting data to provide convergent validity for BAR hypotheses. Behavioral Research In Accounting American Accounting Association Volume 23, Number 1, 2011
  7. 7. A Proposed Framework for Behavioral Accounting Research 7 motivator of choice; the other is the use of monetary outcomes as the sole basis for measuring the utility of an outcome. While it is possible to integrate these arguments into the utility function ͑e.g., Birnberg and Snodgrass 1988; Luft 1997; Casadesus-Masanell 2004͒, BAR tends to view these dimensions as if they are constraints on the individual’s wealth-maximizing behavior. Typically, BAR studies of this type bring together literature from psychology and experimental economics. They stress that rather than behave in a self-interested manner, individuals conform to certain social norms such as fairness, equity, trust, honesty, or a willingness to cooperate. For a discussion of these issues, see Camerer ͑2001͒, Rabin ͑1993, 1998͒, Fehr and Gaechter ͑2000͒, Fehr and Schmidt ͑1999͒, Moser ͑1998͒, Evans et al. ͑2001͒, Evans et al. ͑2005͒, and Dawes and Thaler ͑1988͒. Another dimension related to fairness and equity but not explicitly discussed in BAR is egalitarianism ͑Dawes et al. 2007͒. Overall, these studies are important for BAR for two reasons. First, they show how little it takes for the participants to exhibit non-self-interested behavior. Second, they show the importance of the individual’s perception of equal/fair treatment relative to his or her peers and how they respond to a lack of perceived equity/fairness. Trust is of interest to behavioral researchers of all types ͑Rousseau et al. 1998; Sapienza et al. 2007͒. In BAR, Rose ͑2007͒ examined how management’s financial reporting behavior affected the investors’ willingness to trust them. Evans et al. ͑2001͒ focus on the individual in a management accounting environment and show that individuals will behave honestly in a setting where their dishonest behavior would not be detected, thereby violating the self-interest assumption. As a possible explanation of this type of behavior, Rutledge and Karim ͑1999͒ found that those participants who did not exploit their asymmetric information in a principal-agent setting scored higher on ethical development than those who did. Their research and many other papers suggest that non-totally self-interested behavior is the norm or “default” behavior for many individuals and in many settings, rather than the self-interested behavior postulated in traditional economic theory. A possible explanation for this behavior is their perception of whether they were treated fairly ͑e.g., Greenberg 1990; Hannan 2005͒. These findings can lead to interesting research on the individual’s response to their absence of fairness. Remindful of Lucy van Pelt and Charlie Brown’s ongoing “relationship” over his kicking the football, Bohnet and Zeckhauser ͑2004͒ report that decision makers exhibit an aversion to betrayal and take actions to avoid it. Wang ͑2007͒ examines the symmetry between the punishment for dishonesty and the reward for honesty. She finds that honesty is rewarded more generously than dishonesty is punished. Issues of this type can be related to resource allocation in managerial accounting and client behavior in auditing. In both cases, the research question would involve identifying which behaviors lead to trust ͑or distrust͒ between the parties. What causes an auditor to trust one client more than another? What causes a superior ͑manager or auditor͒ to trust a particular subordinate? Any trust-oriented research raises ͑at least͒ two questions related to experimental design. One is the importance of the experiment’s context ͑degree of realism͒ and the choice of participants ͑students or professionals͒ used in the study. The other is the importance of the presence or absence of the interaction with a real person when the participant is told of the existence of another participant. The latter issue is discussed under strategic choice situations. Culture and Its Impact on Decision Makers BAR studies dealing with social norms and potentially differing values across cultures ask whether differences in culture result in different decisions/behaviors. For the most part, these studies have utilized the framework of Hofstede ͑1980͒. However, it is important to be aware that some issues have been raised about the appropriateness of his categories ͑e.g., Baskerville 2003; McSweeney 2002͒. Because of the readily apparent cultural differences, the greatest portion of this research has compared Asian and North American workers ͑e.g., Birnberg and Snodgrass Behavioral Research In Accounting Volume 23, Number 1, 2011 American Accounting Association
  8. 8. 8 Birnberg 1988; Chow et al. 1999͒. Thus far, the studies are inconclusive. While some of the studies have found differences consistent with their predictions ͑e.g., Kachelmeier and Shehata 1997͒, others have not ͑Birnberg et al. 2008͒. In an interesting archival financial accounting study related to BAR, Doupnik ͑2008͒ finds inter-country differences in earnings management after allowing for differences for legal regimes. The potential role of national cultures is becoming more important as BAR internationalizes and research findings reported by researchers from many different countries appear in journals and SSRN. This raises the following question. Are research findings from one country universally applicable or should we be concerned and replicate them before we accept their universality? As management systems and styles “internationalize” in large, industrialized economies, it may mitigate concerns over cross-cultural differences. However, this homogeneity may not be present in small-scale economies. In contrast to results reported in some BAR, Henrich and the Cross Cultural Ultimatum Game Research Group conducted an extensive study across 15 smallscale economies. Their study is important because they examine behavior among economies where the variation in economic development is far greater than those typically studied by BAR. Using the dictator game and a social dilemma game, as well as the ultimatum game, they report that the “textbook economic model” failed to predict the observed behavior. Their results are reported in various forms ͑Henrich et al. 2005, 2001͒, as well as in Henrich’s ͑2007͒ plenary address at the AAA’s 2007 annual meeting. They conclude behavior in the experiments is generally consistent with economic patterns of everyday life in these societies. Henrich et al. ͑2001, 73–74͒ report that, “The higher the degree of market integration ͓in their society͔ and the higher the payoffs to cooperation ͓in their society͔, the greater the level of cooperation in experimental games.” Summary While the methods used to study individual behavior have not changed significantly since Birnberg and Shields ͑1989͒, BAR has paralleled the trend found in experimental economics. A significant portion of BAR now focuses on factors that influence decision makers in directions at odds with the self-interest and wealth-maximizing assumptions. These noneconomic dimensions include trusting behavior, cooperation, and the expectation of a fair share of any rewards. In certain settings this can lead to greater monetary returns to the decision maker. However, they also can expose the decision maker to greater risk. Other characteristics of the “work environment,” such as the national/local culture, also can affect the expectations and behavior of the decision maker. It has been suggested that certain of the cultural differences observed in individuals may be based on different market conditions among countries. Individual Choice Studies There are a variety of reasons for the popularity of individual-focused research in BAR. The first is simplicity. Considering the individual investor, auditor, etc., in isolation lends simplicity to both the study’s research model and its design. It also simplifies the analysis and interpretation of the results. The second is parsimony. It takes the fewest number of participants to achieve the desired number of observations per cell. This is especially important when the participants are professionals. The third reflects the models generated in the disciplines on which BAR has drawn most heavily ͑economics and psychology͒. Both contain a significant literature relating to how the individual makes a decision. Sociology and organization theory consider the “group” to be the smallest unit and have been drawn on by BAR to a significantly lesser extent. Individual choice studies in BAR can be divided into two types, depending on the type of variable investigated. One group of studies is interested in better understanding the impact of Behavioral Research In Accounting American Accounting Association Volume 23, Number 1, 2011
  9. 9. A Proposed Framework for Behavioral Accounting Research 9 elements of the setting within which the individual acts on the individual. The other is concerned with the appropriateness of rational wealth-maximizing characterization of the decision maker. Factors Related to the Task Setting Four elements of the task setting are of particular interest in individual BAR. These are incentives, participation, accountability, and systems interface. The first two are the focus of a significant portion of BAR; the latter two, much less. Incentives. Chow ͑1983͒ initiated experimental research on the role of incentives in BAR. This line of BAR literature typically uses the principal-agent model to generate hypotheses. For a survey of the economic models of incentives, see Prendergast ͑1999͒. In general, the studies report that incentives matter and the nature of the incentive system impacts an agent’s behavior ͑e.g., Bonner et al. 2000; Towry 2003; Sprinkle et al. 2008͒. Participation. Participation is, essentially, concerned with the honesty of communication within the organizational hierarchy. Early BAR investigated how accurately the workers/agents would communicate their private information. Would they use it to create slack? Generally, the answer was yes ͑e.g., Young 1985; Shields and Shields 1988͒.3 However, as discussed subsequently, later research recognized the strategic nature of the interaction between the subordinate and the superior and modeled participation as a negotiation process. Accountability. Given the function of accounting, it is surprising that the formal development of accountability was in psychology ͑see Lerner et al. 1998 for a review͒ despite the obvious link to management accounting research; that is, the effect of evaluation on individual behavior ͑e.g., Argyris 1952; Prakash and Rappaport 1977͒. The notion of evaluation in BAR is not limited to management accounting. When the superior in an audit team examines the work of a subordinate or a client examines the work of a tax professional, an “evaluation” is taking place. The difference between the evaluation literature and BAR on accountability is reflected in the breadth of the questions they ask. The evaluation literature focuses on how the accounting system ͑e.g., the performance indicator͒ affects the extent and direction of the effort provided by the “workers” ͑Prakash and Rappaport 1977͒. Accountability BAR not only asks for what the worker feels accountable, but also asks to whom the “worker” feels accountable when facing conflicting demands ͑e.g., Johnson and Kaplan 1991; Messier and Quilliam 1992͒, or how elements present in the accountability setting ͑e.g., a need to justify one’s actions͒ affect the worker’s behavior ͑Ahrens 1996͒. Miller et al. ͑2006͒ recognized that there is an element of mutual accountability in the evaluation process. The superior likely has a prior relationship with the subordinate and in many instances must “justify” any evaluation he/she makes. Their study focuses on the reviewer in an audit setting. While the study only examines one party to the dyad, their findings suggest that factors such as familiarity between the two parties can affect the reviewer’s assessment. There may be limitations on the ability to perform these experiments with professional participants in dyads because of the potential impact on the participants’ post-experimental relations. Systems interface. Information systems in BAR essentially are viewed as decision aids. They are discussed under various labels, such as decision support systems ͑DSS͒ and knowledge based systems ͑KBS͒. The DSS typically is used in the management information systems literature to describe an information system intended to support a specific decision and is closest to the term decision aid ͑DA͒, which typically is used in auditing to describe what may or may not be a computerized calculating system. In contrast, the KBS refers to a database collected for a specific 3 Those familiar with the dictator game discussed below will recognize that Young’s ͑1985͒ task is essentially the use of a dictator game to simulate participation. Behavioral Research In Accounting Volume 23, Number 1, 2011 American Accounting Association
  10. 10. 10 Birnberg area of inquiry ͑e.g., XBRL͒. The simpler of the two is the DSS. Two broad questions are researched under DSS. How well are the systems utilized by those for whom they are intended? And, what characteristics of the DSS facilitate or inhibit their utilization? Specific issues researched under the former include not only whether the DSS improves decisions, but whether the potential users utilize them and whether the system can be used to facilitate learning. They differ from the individual choice BAR studies discussed earlier ͑i.e., that examined how the individual responds to specific outputs of the system͒. Those studies typically are linked to cognitive issues and the use of accounting data ͑e.g., Lipe and Salterio 2000; Dearman and Shields 2005͒. The papers discussed in this section are concerned with the utilization of a DSS as a DA designed to assist an individual perform a specific task. In general, they report that the DSS is not always utilized ͑e.g., Whitecotton 1996; Eining et al. 1997͒. Whitecotton ͑1996͒ found that auditors’ reliance on the DA was inversely related to their confidence in their own judgment. Obviously, this raises two questions. Is the auditor’s confidence appropriate? And, how do those using the DA perform relative to the best auditors? Rose and Wolfe ͑2000͒ shed some light on the second question. Using student participants and a tax calculation task, they report participants who performed the calculation using “pencil and paper” rather than the DA outperformed the best DA-assisted group by 22 percent, but required 112 percent more effort ͑Rose and Wolfe 2000, 297; also see Glover et al. 1997; Borthick et al. 2006͒. It is important to learn whether the results can be replicated with professionals because it is likely that their judgment is superior to that of the students. Arnold et al. ͑2006͒ studied the type of data from the KBS used by ͑relative͒ novices ͑senior/ staff auditors͒ and ͑relative͒ experts ͑partner/manager͒. The two groups differed on several dimensions. Novices chose feedforward explanations, while the experts chose feedback. Arnold et al. ͑2006͒ report that the greater the experts’ reliance on feedback explanations from the KBS, the greater their adherence to the KBS’ recommendation. There also are interactive systems intended to facilitate access to larger databases. These DSS are intended to improve the quality of decision making or assist in training. The issues considered revolve around the usefulness of the database. In BAR, the issue typically can be framed in terms of the behavioral characteristics of the user and the usefulness to the user of the DSS. The XBRL is an example of such a system. It is intended to enhance the user’s ability to obtain and understand financial data about the firm. Hodge et al. ͑2004͒ found that nonprofessional users of financial statements were better able to ascertain the impact of differing reporting methods for stock options between firms using the XBRL than without it. However, like Rose and Wolfe ͑2000͒, they reported that many of their participants did not utilize XBRL. Other BAR has as its purpose examining the use of DSS as a tool for training/educating novices. Alternative modes of communicating information, such as graphs, frequently are used in reports. For example, nonnumerical formats are regularly used in corporations’ annual reports, internal reports, and our research. This issue initially was asked by MIS researchers in the 1970s ͑Dickson et al. 1977͒ and subsequently extended ͑e.g., Vessey 1994͒. Despite the extensive use of pie charts and graphs in internal and external reports, there is little research in BAR on this topic ͑for an exception, see Amer 2005͒. In marketing, MacKay and Villarreal ͑2007͒ found that the recipient’s ability to take advantage of the simpler nature of nonnumerical data is likely to vary among individuals. An interesting example of earlier research in this area, using faces to communicate financial data, was reported by Moriarity ͑1979͒. Noneconomic Dimensions Affecting the Individual The above dimensions of the task are essentially elements of the task setting in which the individual makes a decision. They typically are set by the organization or environment within Behavioral Research In Accounting American Accounting Association Volume 23, Number 1, 2011
  11. 11. A Proposed Framework for Behavioral Accounting Research 11 which the decision maker is operating. The decision maker also brings certain characteristics such as trust and fairness to the setting. These characteristics may be ͑relatively͒ stable for any decision maker ͑e.g., desire to be treated fairly͒, or they may vary with the situation ͑e.g., the decision maker’s mood͒. In this section, these characteristics as they relate to individual choice are discussed. Ethics. Closely related to the study of norms is the study of ethical behavior. The former often is researched in the context of what others expect the actor to do, while ethical behavior typically refers to the actor’s behavior. Noreen ͑1988͒ offers a theoretical link between ethics and agency theory. He argues that parties to the contract could be expected to follow social norms. Early BAR on ethics focused on the participants’ moral development ͑e.g., Ponemon 1990͒. These studies are concerned with two issues. How developed is the moral reasoning of particular individuals/groups? And, how does a given level of ethical development affect participants’ onthe-job behavior? These two questions can easily be adapted for BAR in any of the accounting sub-areas. The broader issue is how significant the ethical issue is in that sub-area. Auditing researchers have led the way in considering the role of ethics in BAR. For reviews, see Louwers et al. ͑1997͒ and Jones et al. ͑2003͒. Like the cross-culture research described earlier, the ethics-based research has been characterized by issues over how to measure the level of ethical development/behavior of the participants. This is not surprising since, like culture, the level of an individual’s ethical development is not observable ͑as distinct from actions͒. For a discussion of the different approaches, see Cohen et al. ͑1996͒. In a post-Enron world, BAR in both auditing and management may find the issue of increased importance. The problem facing the researcher is likely to be one of access. To minimize the degree of intrusiveness and obtain responses, this research typically relies on surveys or cases to elicit responses. There also appears to be a reluctance to publish these papers in the mainstream accounting journals. A significant number of BAR studies have been published in The Journal of Business Ethics ͑e.g., Arnold et al. 2007; Emerson et al. 2007͒. Two tax-oriented ethics studies suggest possible studies for management accounting behavioral researchers. Fleischman et al. ͑2007͒ demonstrate the linkage across the various aspects of individual-focused research. The paper examines the evaluation by managers in a case concerning the ethical behavior of a spouse in the context of a tax setting ͑innocent spouse rule͒. The paper explores the potential existence of the innocent spouse rule as a norm and the extent to which research in ethics by behavioral scientists can explain it. Similar studies might be conducted in management accounting. They could relate the participant’s response to the firing of an innocent manager and, for example, the participant’s predicted subsequent job behavior. This behavior relates to the issue of perceived fairness discussed earlier. In the area of financial accounting, Rose ͑2007͒ related how what could be labeled ͑un͒ethical reporting by management leads to ͑dis͒trust on the part of investors. Cruz et al. ͑2000͒ report that tax professionals’ willingness to resist the client’s desire for aggressive tax reporting is positively correlated with professionals’ score on the Multidimensional Ethics Scale. This raises the question of how a subordinate might respond to a superior’s efforts for a more favorable set of budget estimates. Would a measure of ethical development predict the likelihood of cooperation? In an experiment in financial reporting, Vance et al. ͑2008͒ hypothesized and found that the better the superior-subordinate relationship, the less likely the subordinate was to resist the superior’s request for aggressive financial reporting. Two sets of BAR studies have extended early BAR on ethics in interesting ways. They examine the impact of the individual’s environment on the individual’s ethical behavior. Booth and Schulz ͑2004͒ examine the impact of the organization’s ethical climate on the individual’s behavior. In a laboratory study, they find that holding the participant’s level of ethical development Behavioral Research In Accounting Volume 23, Number 1, 2011 American Accounting Association
  12. 12. 12 Birnberg constant, the behavior of the participant moves in the direction of the organization’s ethical climate. There is no reason to believe that similar results would not be found in the effect of the permissiveness of audit firms on auditor behavior. Spicer et al. ͑2004͒ and Bailey and Spicer ͑2007͒ linked cross-cultural research and ethics. Earlier studies had reported ethical differences among auditors in different countries ͑e.g., Patel et al. 2003; Arnold et al. 2007͒. Spicer et al. ͑2004͒ and Bailey and Spicer ͑2007͒ researched the ethical norms of a culture on individuals raised in a different culture. In their studies, they studied U.S. expatriates in Russia involved in the Russian business community. They report convergence in ethical attitudes and intended behaviors between U.S. expatriate and Russian respondents to their ethics survey. The U.S. expatriates in their study responded more like their Russian counterparts than U.S. nationals in the U.S. The respondents also expressed similar attitudes toward organizational practices that violated the ethical standards or “hyper-norms.” The U.S. expatriate respondents who were highly integrated into the Russian community expressed ethical attitudes similar to those of Russian respondents under conditions of “local ͑Russian͒ norms.” In both cases, the ethical attitudes of Russians and Americans converge despite the differences that might have been expected to arise due to their respective national identities. Mood. Recently, psychologists, experimental economists, and accountants have begun to examine the role of the decision maker’s emotional state ͑affect͒ on the decision process. These studies could be important if different mood states affect the decision maker’s perceptions and decisions. While mood could affect strategic interactions, the research undertaken in BAR thus far has focused on the individual decision maker. The rationale underlying studies of this type is that mood affects the nature of the prior experiences retrieved from memory. Positive mood states lead to retrieving positive outcomes in comparable situations and vice versa. Wright and Bower ͑1992͒, in a BAR-related study, reported the effect of decision makers’ emotional state ͑happy, neutral, or sad͒ on their perception of the degree of riskiness of a decision and probability of success. As they conjectured, the subjective probability estimate is influenced by the decision maker’s mood. “Happy” decision makers give higher probabilities for the outcome of positive events and lower probabilities for the outcome of negative events. They report the opposite results for “sad” decision makers. In an accounting context, Moreno et al. ͑2002͒ and Kida et al. ͑2001͒ report similar results. Consistent with these results, Chung et al. ͑2007͒ studied auditors making inventory valuation decisions and find that mood state affects the degree of conservatism in the auditor’s inventory valuation. Auditors in a positive mood are less conservative than those in a negative mood. Moreno and Bhattacharjee ͑2008͒, in a single-party study ͑the other party did not actually exist͒, report that knowledge of the other party’s emotional state affects bargaining behavior. For a discussion of the literature arguing that emotion can enhance the individual’s ability to make rational choices, see Ackert et al. ͑2003͒. Psychologists and experimental economists have studied other emotional states that could be of interest to accountants. Lerner and Keltner ͑2000, 2001͒ report that fearful participants make more pessimistic estimates and more risk-averse choices, while anger leads participants to make more optimistic risk estimates and risk-seeking choices. Interestingly, the responses of angry participants more closely resembled those of happy participants than those of fearful participants. For reviews, see Lerner et al. ͑2004͒ and Pham ͑2007͒. An interesting issue raised by these studies is whether the effect of these emotions is to make people overly optimistic/pessimistic. We cannot conclude one way or the other without having some baseline measure of the probability. What should the individuals believe the probability to be? Since the participants disagree, we can assume that their emotional state has led at least one of the groups to be incorrect, but that does not preclude the possibility that they both may be in error. Ideally, further research will be undertaken in this area where there is a known “correct” Behavioral Research In Accounting American Accounting Association Volume 23, Number 1, 2011
  13. 13. A Proposed Framework for Behavioral Accounting Research 13 answer. A topic that conceivably could be related to the issue of optimism/pessimism is the effect of regret in decision making. It has been shown to have an impact in many nonbusiness decision settings ͑e.g., Gilbert et al. 2004͒. A paper by Libby et al. ͑2008͒ suggests that optimism/pessimism is not always the “irrational” result of the decision maker’s emotional state. They report that in some circumstances optimism/ pessimism may be the result of the incentives. If analysts desire good relations with management, they report that, all else being held constant, the optimism/pessimism of sell-side analysts is a deliberate act and not based on an emotion or trait. Two recent studies suggest the possibility of yet another emotion that could be affecting worker behavior—guilt/guilt aversion. These studies also illustrate how labels potentially can serve to separate like ideas. Schnedler and Vadovic ͑2007͒ hypothesize and find that guilt aversion motivated participants to exert effort beyond the minimum required by the control system. One might conjecture that this merely renames the concept embodied in “gift exchange” ͑e.g., Hannan 2005͒. Staffiero ͑2006͒ used guilt to describe the behavior of individual members of Japanese work groups. The workers felt guilt when they made insufficient contributions to their work group. In contrast, Birnberg and Snodgrass ͑1988͒ offer a more positive explanation of this behavior, suggesting that the outcomes to other members of the group may have a positive utility to an individual member. Failure to achieve the group’s goal results in lowered utility because of the loss to others as well as to oneself. Fairness. While the perception of fairness has primarily been researched in strategic settings, the perceived fairness of the accounting system affects the behavior of the individual in individual choice settings as well. Libby ͑2001͒ and Hufnagel and Birnberg ͑1994͒ found that the participants were sensitive to the perceived unfairness of the accounting system ͑procedural fairness͒ even when they were not adversely affected by the rule or system. Physiological Measures and BAR Behavioral accounting researchers have tried a variety of methods to understand decision processes. The methods utilized are relatively non-intrusive, but provide greater insight than observing an outcome/response in an experimental setting. These approaches include think-aloud protocols ͑e.g., Bedard and Biggs 1991͒ and data boards ͑e.g., Shields 1980͒. These approaches yielded insights into “cognitive flow” or the decision process being followed. However, both of these methods directly involve the participant and are limited to reporting the decision maker’s conscious behavior. The methods discussed in this section measure the same behaviors discussed earlier, but use methods intended to measure physiological changes. Hunton and McEwen ͑1997͒ utilized an eye movement retinal imaging computer to study the information search strategy of financial analysts. Unlike protocol analysis that relies on selfreporting and data boards that report only choices, they were able to track the search strategies of the analysts in a less obtrusive but more detailed manner. They were able to observe data scanned but not reported ͑protocols͒ or chosen ͑data boards͒ by the participants. Consistent with data board research, they found that the more accurate analysts used a directed rather than a sequential search strategy. Their search appeared to be motivated by hypotheses generated by the process.4 In finance, Lo and Repin ͑2002͒ used more traditional methods ͑electro-dermal and pulse rate measures͒ to measure the emotional state ͑level of excitement͒ of ten stock traders while they were actually trading. Lo and Repin ͑2002͒ found significant differences between periods when significant market events were and were not taking place. They argue this suggests that emotion is a 4 For a discussion of the use of eye movements in marketing research where they have been used more often, see Zaltman ͑1997͒. Behavioral Research In Accounting Volume 23, Number 1, 2011 American Accounting Association
  14. 14. 14 Birnberg relevant component of the traders’ decisions. Their data suggest that the response varies with experience, but the sample is too small to draw any statistically significant conclusions. Neuroeconomics and Neuroaccounting Recently researchers studying decision making have taken a new approach. Working with neuroscientists, they have gone one step deeper inside the “black box” that is the decision maker. Using various devices, they observe the patterns of brain activation as individuals make choices ͑e.g., McCabe et al. 2001; Camerer et al. 2005; Knudsen et al. 2007͒. Given the neuroscientists’ knowledge of the function of the brain centers, conclusions can be drawn about what underlies the observed behavior. By moving one step closer to the decision maker’s cognitive activity, the role of the stimulus and the response changes in an interesting way. The decision, typically considered the response in BAR studies, now is the stimulus and the brain center activation is the response. This is in contrast to traditional research in BAR where researchers observed behavior and inferred the underlying cognitive processes or extracted them from protocols. Thus far, little research of this type has been undertaken by behavioral accounting researchers except for John Dickhaut ͑e.g., Dickhaut et al. 2003; Smith and Dickhaut 2005; Rustichini et al. 2005; Dickhaut 2009͒. Dickhaut and his colleagues have papers ͑Dickhaut 2009; Dickhaut et al. 2009a, 2009b͒ using neuroscience to study the evolution of recordkeeping ͑i.e., accounting͒. However, none of these papers provide the type of systematic review of the possible link between neuroscience and BAR that can be found for finance in Sapra and Zak ͑2008͒, who offer neuroscience explanations for observed behaviors in financial decision making where data from neuroscience and neuroeconomics are available. While potentially quite insightful, there are at least three reasons why research of this type will progress more slowly than other types of BAR. First, it requires cooperation with a researcher possessing access to machines to perform the scans and skilled in reading brain scans. Second, it would appear that research of this type is quite expensive. Third, explaining the findings to other BAR researchers may be difficult. Moreover, the results may not eliminate the issue of “hardwired” versus “learned” behavior as the explanation for the response. An example of neuroeconomic research’s potential relevance to BAR can be illustrated using the findings of Luft ͑1994͒ and Hannan et al. ͑2005͒. Luft ͑1994͒ found that participants in her study preferred a bonus to a penalty pay scheme even though the payoffs from the two systems were equivalent. Hannan et al. ͑2005͒ found that the participants in the penalty condition exerted more effort. Given that neuroscientists have shown that different brain centers are used to measure pleasure ͑reward͒ and pain ͑penalty͒ ͑Delgado et al. 2000͒, this raises the question of whether the preference for a bonus scheme reflects differences between the pleasure and pain brain centers ͑“hardwired” neuroscience explanation͒ or whether it is the approval implied by the “reward” and disapproval associated with a “penalty” ͑a social psychology issue of intrinsic reward͒. Barnea et al. ͑2009͒, using Swedish data on twins to study investing behavior, suggest that there is both a genetic and a learned component. A series of neuroscience studies may provide some insight into what is happening. Using the ultimatum game, Tabibnia et al. ͑2008͒ report MRIs of the brain that suggest similar results to those above for fair and unfair behavior. Their design utilized an individual choice study using only participants who receive the “offer” ͑ultimatum͒. First, the results suggest that the ͑recipient͒ participants differ in what they believe to be a fair offer. Second, those who judge the offer to be “unfair” show different patterns of brain activity than those who consider the offer to be “fair.” Finally, participants who accept an unfair offer had different patterns in their MRIs than those who reject unfair offers ͑Tabibnia et al. 2008͒. A study by Harbaugh et al. ͑2007͒ that relates brain activity to altruism in decision makers also illustrates the potential link of neuroscience to BAR. They studied the brain scans of 19 Behavioral Research In Accounting American Accounting Association Volume 23, Number 1, 2011
  15. 15. A Proposed Framework for Behavioral Accounting Research 15 female students who were asked to make a decision allocating $100 between a food bank and themselves. The brain scans of the “altruistic” ͑gave more͒ and “selfish” ͑gave less͒ participants show that the altruistic participants exhibit greater activity in the part of the brain that reflects pleasure than do the selfish participants. The altruistic participants show significant activity in that part of the brain even when they were required to contribute a fixed portion of the $100 to the charity. Studies of this type suggest that there is a physiological basis for the altruistic behavior that is observed in the real world. It does not explain if the behavior is inherent and hardwired ͑Hsu et al. 2008͒ or related to interacting with people and learned ͑Andreoni 1990͒. The authors suggest that they believe their results also would apply to male participants had they been included in the study. Zak and his colleagues introduced a line of neuroeconomic research that approaches the “black box” of human cognitive processes in a different way. They argued that the observed behavior, in this case trust, is based on the brain’s response to a particular hormone. Trusting participants exhibit higher levels of the relevant hormone than nontrusting ͑i.e., economically rational͒ participants. This work is summarized in Zak ͑2008͒. Kuhnen and Chiao ͑2009͒ show that there also appears to be a genetic basis for the differences in the amount of dopamine and serotonin. In their study these differences, like those reported by Zak ͑2008͒, are associated with different patterns of behavior. Summary: Individual Choice Studies Overall, research focused on the individual’s decision-making behavior has played an important role in BAR historically. The predominance of individual-focused research, particularly among North American and many Australian researchers, is easily observed by examining a recent issue of BRIA ͑2007͒. It contained 13 papers. All of these papers could be classified as focused on the individual even though they may describe in the scenario the existence of another/other hypothetical person͑s͒ or have a scripted confederate role-play the “other person.” Equally important is the diversity in topics/areas in which the research is located. Three were related to auditing. Four dealt with aspects of management accounting. Three were related to financial reporting/ decision making. There was one in tax ethics, one in cross-cultural ethics, and one related to education. While this admittedly is a convenience sample, the results are similar to Shields ͑2007͒. They likely are representative of current BAR in North America. A very different view of BAR in Europe would result from examining an issue͑s͒ of AOS or other European-based accounting journals. This emphasis on individual-focused research is likely to continue to be true of BAR in North America for several reasons. Many BAR questions focus on the behavior of individuals acting alone. For example, some of the studies involve one individual’s processing data provided by another individual or a system ͑e.g., Fedor and Ramsey 2007͒. Others continue to be concerned with the cognitive processes of individuals ͑e.g., Joe 2003͒. Still others involve norms, ethics, and culture, which typically have been studied by examining the behavior of the individual in isolation. Finally, the individual also may be the easiest approach for researchers. Individual choice studies do not exist in isolation from the other categories of BAR discussed in this paper. As the research on strategic choice and group-focused behavior shows, understanding the behavior of individuals often is the basis for hypotheses about behavior in dyads and groups. Behavior such as honesty ͑Evans et al. 2001; Cohen et al. 2007͒, that has been exhibited in studies in which the individual does not actually interact with another participant, can lead to predictions of behavior in dyads and groups that differ from those of classical economics. This is particularly true because many of the individually focused studies are studies isolating one member of a network of individuals. This is readily apparent in the next section in the discussion of participation. Behavioral Research In Accounting Volume 23, Number 1, 2011 American Accounting Association
  16. 16. 16 Birnberg There also are limitations in studying the individual in isolation. In part, this results from the movement in organizations to make groups and teams the decision-making unit. In addition, a certain amount of the richness found in the decision-making situation may be lost when BAR isolates the individual from his or her environment. Strategic Choice Studies Studies that explicitly consider the participants’ strategic behavior are relatively new in BAR, though strategic behavior often was implicit and important in earlier BAR. How managers behave in a participative management setting is an example of a strategic setting. Moving from an individual choice study where the actor’s behavior is “inward facing” to one where another actor’s behavior explicitly must be considered introduces the strategic dimension to BAR. In contrast to the individual choice studies, in the strategic behavior studies the decision maker must consider the choices made ͑or to be made͒ by an actual rather than a hypothetical fellow participant. For example, in a management accounting study, the “strategy” to which the participant responds could be the choice of budget level set by another participant acting as “management.” While an individual choice study informs us how the manager/agent responds to a given budget level, we do not learn which budget level the owner/principal would choose to offer to motivate the manager/ agent. In an individual choice study, the researcher may set the independent variable ͑e.g., the budget͒ at levels different from those a manager actually would choose. A significant amount of experimental economics research uses experimental dyads ͑see Roth 1995͒. In BAR, strategic choice studies recognize the limitations in studying the individual in isolation from the environment and the importance in many settings of the behavior of the “other” party on the individual. Some argue that it is important actually to have the “other party” exist whenever the instructions indicate he/she does. Experimental economists argue that it is required for one of two reasons. The first is “maintaining the integrity of the participant pool.” Experimental economists often utilize the same pool of participants in different studies. In some studies, the participant’s experience in a prior study even is a criterion for selection. They argue it is important the participants believe what they are told. If the post experimental debriefing informs them that something was not really the case, they may speculate in future studies about the true nature of the study. The other reason relates to the richness of the experimental setting. Unless the experimenter has insight into how the other party will behave from prior field or laboratory research, including the actual behavior of a participant will increase both the potential insights from and the validity of the study. See Calegari et al. ͑1998͒ for an example of this issue.5 Negotiation Studies The negotiation process is ubiquitous in the business setting. For a review, see Tsay and Bazerman ͑2009͒. Audit firms negotiate with clients over changes in financial statements and accounting methods ͑McCracken et al. 2010͒, firms negotiate with suppliers when they establish operationally intimate relationships ͑JIT͒, and sub-units within the organization negotiate transfer prices and/or quantities. While the surface characteristics of the situations are different, many of the behaviors may be the same ͑e.g., the strategies adopted by the parties͒. They may differ on information asymmetry, division of payoffs, and relative power. The degree of information asymmetry would be expected to affect negotiation, as could the incentives of the parties. For example, in budgeting negotiations the parties typically are playing a zero-sum game. The slack absorbed by the worker reduces the manager’s/principal’s profit by a like amount. In other cases, such as the 5 For a discussion of this literature from an auditing perspective but germane to all BAR, see Hooks and Schultz ͑1996͒ and the symposium in Auditing ͑e.g., Dopuch 1992 and Gibbins 1992͒. For the contrary view from psychology, see Kelman ͑1967͒. Behavioral Research In Accounting American Accounting Association Volume 23, Number 1, 2011
  17. 17. A Proposed Framework for Behavioral Accounting Research 17 audit or transfer price settings, the negotiation game being played need not be a zero-sum game. Rather, a small concession by one party may be significant to the other. Such an asymmetry in payoffs should affect the negotiation process. Negotiation studies also can be characterized based on the relative power of the participants: those where the parties have equal power and those where one party has an advantage. The significance of the strategic interaction is of particular importance for BAR because of the importance of performance as a “response.” An example of how individual choice literature and strategic choice settings are related can be found in Fisher et al.’s ͑2000͒ study of participation utilizing interacting dyads. In the framework utilized in this paper, this represents a paradigm shift. Early BAR into participative budgeting focused on how the “worker” would behave. Would the workers take advantage of their private information to create slack? Young ͑1985͒ even had his participants meet with a “supervisor” played by the experimenter or a colleague. However, the “supervisor” did nothing more than accept the worker-participant’s budget. Thus, Young’s ͑1985͒ study essentially is an individual choice study. While social pressure was present ͑the design forced the worker-participant to face a supervisor͒, it omitted any negotiation over the acceptability of the worker’s proposed budget. The explicit power in the situation was vested with the worker. In reality, the budget-setting process is quite different. In the natural setting, the supervisor also has significant power. Thus, while Young ͑1985͒ reported how the worker would act in isolation, important aspects of participation are better captured as a dyad that permits strategic interaction. A second area of negotiation studies where the use of dyads is present is in the transfer price literature. Like the participation studies, they are outcome-oriented. In an early study, DeJong et al. ͑1989͒ test the efficacy of various transfer pricing rules. Haka et al. ͑2000͒ vary the precision of the accounting data the manager possesses. The participants receiving the less precise information negotiated strategically. They tried to achieve the best price at the risk of failing to reach an agreement. In contrast, the participants with more precise data used the negotiation process to communicate information to the other party about his or her position in an attempt to reach a more informed decision. Chalos and Haka ͑1990͒ and Ghosh ͑2000͒ also studied the negotiation process in the transfer price setting in laboratory experiments. Ghosh ͑2000͒ observed that when the incentive system is consistent with the sourcing of the input, the systems are perceived as fairer and the participants behaved in a less exploitive manner. Also see Luft and Libby ͑1997͒. How humans negotiate and what motivates them to behave in a particular way is a question of interest to all BAR. Findings in one area have implications for the others. Calegari et al. ͑1998͒ report two interesting results concerning dyads using an auditing-based task. One relates to the outcome of the negotiation process, the other to method. In their study, M.B.A. students, participating in the experiments as “auditors” and “clients,” exhibited two types of behavior: competitive pairs and cooperative pairs. The competitive pairs behave as Calegari et al.’s ͑1998͒ economicbased hypotheses predict. However, the cooperative pairs exhibit what Calegari et al. ͑1998͒ describe as signaling and cooperative behavior. What causes the pairs to behave differently is an unanswered question that should interest BAR. Calegari et al. ͑1998͒ also reported an interesting methodological result. The outcomes from a human-computer dyad were different from those of the human-human pairs. Obviously, the computer was not programmed to respond to cues/signals, such as willingness to cooperate, that the human partner might send. This reinforces the concern about the limits in utilizing the individual choice style of research when the “other party” has an opportunity to act/interact strategically. This is especially true where the set of actions includes choices that could facilitate reaching a noncompetitive, but mutually beneficial, conclusion. There are, however, settings when studying dyads in a laboratory may not be practical or even feasible. This would be especially true in cases such as Calegari et al. ͑1998͒, where students may Behavioral Research In Accounting Volume 23, Number 1, 2011 American Accounting Association
  18. 18. 18 Birnberg not be suitable surrogates for professionals. This raises the issue of external validity. Researchers have tried to resolve this problem in an audit setting by studying the negotiation process using professionals as participants in individual choice studies that “simulate” interacting dyads. For example, Favere-Marchesi ͑2006͒ studied the initial negotiation postures of auditors and clients over a proposed change in the financials, giving the same case study separately to each type of participant. They conclude that ex ante the clients have a better understanding of the auditors’ initial position than the auditors do of the clients’. In a related study, Tan and Trotman ͑2007͒ proposed and tested a model of when in the negotiation process auditors should make concessions to clients. Their experiment uses financial officers as clients and a computer simulation as the auditor who negotiates with the client ͑via email͒. They report the clients’ responses and the clients’ strategies in responding to the simulated auditor. However, their findings should be viewed in light of Calegari et al. ͑1998͒. How this initial difference and differing strategies would play out during negotiations between financial officers and actual auditors remains an open question. Because of the potential problems involved in using actual auditors and their clients, it is unlikely to be studied in an experimental setting using professionals as participants in both roles. We may need to rely on archival research to understand the behavior of these dyads ͑e.g., Nelson et al. 2002͒. Settings with explicitly unequal power. Other papers have utilized dyads in negotiation/ bargaining studies where the parties possess unequal power. These studies usually investigate the presence or absence of the norm of fairness in economic man rather than negotiation in a specific setting. They typically utilize either the ultimatum or the dictator game ͑Roth 1995͒. In the dictator game, one person ͑the dictator͒ is given an endowment to allocate between self and another party ͑the recipient͒. The recipient must accept the dictator’s allocation. These studies utilize actual rather than simulated recipients. Because the recipient is passive in the experimental setting, the use of a dyad would appear to be intended to meet the criterion of not misleading the participants.6 In contrast, in the ultimatum game, the first party’s ͑the “proposer”͒ situation is identical to that of the dictator except that the recipient now may accept or reject the proposer’s offer. If accepted, the proposer’s offer determines each party’s payoff. However, if rejected, both parties receive nothing. The results of studies using both games tend to support a norm of fair treatment expected by the responders and recognized by the dictator/proposer ͑Roth et al. 1991; Berg et al. 1995͒. In both the dictator and ultimatum games, the first party makes an offer approaching, on average, 40 percent of the endowment ͑Roth 1995͒. This result appears to reflect the recognition by many of the participants of a norm that sets the “fair” allocation of the endowment. Cheap talk research in dyads. The typical “cheap talk” study also reflects a setting where the strategic interaction is germane to the study ͑e.g., Kachelmeier et al. 1994; Rankin et al. 2003͒. How will the party receiving the nonbinding message react to it? Obviously, such a study could be done using the individual receiving the message as the focus. However, such a study would lose the behavior of the participant who is allowed to make the cheap talk commitment. That individual’s behavior also is of interest to the researcher. Thus, it is preferable for the study to use a dyad ͑potential sender and receiver͒ rather than only a receiver. In general, research has found that the cheap talk often is viewed by the recipient as if it is a binding commitment ͑e.g., Kachelmeier et al. 1994; Zhang 2008͒. Cheap talk studies can be conducted in any setting in accounting where the context permits one party to communicate with and make a nonbinding pre-commitment to another party that, if true, should affect the other party’s behavior. 6 There are, of course, designs where the recipient-participant could be needed later for another experiment. For example, the recipient-participant in the early rounds could, in the later rounds or in another experiment, play the role of the dictator. The researcher could study the interaction between the amount offered to a participant and the amount subsequently offered by that participant when acting as the dictator. Behavioral Research In Accounting American Accounting Association Volume 23, Number 1, 2011
  19. 19. A Proposed Framework for Behavioral Accounting Research 19 Effect of non-negotiating third party. The work of Fehr and Gaechter ͑2000͒ and Zhang ͑2008͒ provide insight into why it is beneficial for the researcher to include all the potential parties in a study. Fehr and Gaechter ͑2000͒ report that a third party, who only observes unfair behavior, is willing to incur a cost to punish the unfair participant. Zhang ͑2008͒, in a BAR study, provides an interesting twist on the strategic interaction present in dyads. The dyad about which she hypothesizes consists of two managers ͑agents͒ who report to the same owner ͑principal͒. She examined the truthfulness and whistle-blowing behavior of two agents. Each agent’s cost is common knowledge to the two agents, but asymmetrical information to the principal. Essentially, her findings show that the strategic behavior of the members of the dyad ͑the agents͒ depends on the endogenous behavior ͑fairness͒ of the third party ͑the principal͒. The actual presence of the third party in the study had two benefits. First, it enhances the internal validity of the study. Second, it ensures that the principal’s behavior in the experiment actually reflects how the principal would act. In this case, the principal offers a lower wage because of concerns over being cheated by the agents. This insight, in turn, can serve as a basis for future BAR on the principal’s behavior in this setting. Reputation. We all utilize information on another’s past behavior ͑i.e., reputation͒ in making choices. Similarly, managers must rely on the reputation of other managers in making investment decisions, and investors, analysts, and auditors rely on managers’ reputations in their interactions with firms. However, there is limited research on the role of reputation in the willingness of one party to trust another.7 This reflects the design of experiments. Most studies, such as those described in the previous sections, use a “turnpike” approach. The participants are anonymously paired and typically do not “play” the same participant more than once. This is intended to eliminate reputation as a factor in decision making and as a potential confound. Thus, the question of the reputation of individual players must be set aside. But what is known is that when players interact over time, expectations and reputations are formed and, moreover, the quality of decision making may improve relative to the turnpike design ͑Schwartz and Young 2002͒. Duffy et al. ͑2009͒ provide further insight into reputations. Participants may not always recognize the value of acquiring information about the other participant’s behavior, a form of reputation. They reported that participants who initially received costless feedback about the behavior of others utilized the feedback/reputation-related information. However, those participants who did not receive feedback information until later in the experiment did not utilize the information to the same degree. In addition, they report that when a nominal cost is attached to the feedback, participants did not buy the information even though it was quite profitable to do so. Note that in the studies discussed above, reputation is very stylized: it takes the form of very specific information. This encapsulates the idea of reputation in the laboratory. However, in the “real world,” the information that goes into forming a reputation may be subjective and imprecise. Given the role that reputation can play in business settings, there is room for additional research in this area. Summary: Strategic Choice Studies The study of dyads is at the intersection of individual and group BAR. It offers valuable insights into the individual’s strategic behavior and is important for three reasons. One is that strategic behavior is integral to many business activities. A second is that participants act differently when the other party is present rather than hypothetical ͑e.g., Calegari et al. 1998͒. Finally, 7 Archival markets research has concerned itself with audit firm reputation, particularly in the wake of Arthur Andersen ͑e.g., Barton 2005͒. There has been very limited BAR in this area ͑Mayhew 2001, Mayhew et al. 2001͒. BAR has operationalized the audit firm as an individual in experimental markets studies. Behavioral Research In Accounting Volume 23, Number 1, 2011 American Accounting Association
  20. 20. 20 Birnberg and perhaps most importantly, the use of dyads permits the researcher to study both sides of the strategic interaction and do so over a series of iterations between members of the dyad. The dyad may be composed of peers as in Zhang ͑2008͒ and Towry ͑2003͒, or be hierarchical as in the studies of budget negotiation ͑Fisher et al. 2000͒ and the dictator and ultimatum games. BAR research undertaken thus far suggests that the presence of a “real person” with whom the participant interacts affects their behavior ͑Calegari et al. 1998͒. BAR using dyads could be useful in developing a better understanding of how managers and workers, as well as auditors and tax professionals/payers, behave in various settings, in addition to insights into the negation process. It also could reveal how “soft behavioral constraints” such as norms can affect behavior. The nature of the interaction can vary, as can the mechanism used to achieve it. As even the ultimatum game shows, both parties possess some power ͑i.e., the ability to affect the behavior of the other͒, albeit in some cases a very “soft” power. The study of how they use this power and how the parties interact ͑their strategies͒ is what makes the study of dyads interesting. It is important to note that the results discussed above and elsewhere often run counter to the simplistic notion of the self-interested, wealth-maximizing “economic person.” Because dyads can be viewed as a subset of group behavior, studying dyads yields potentially valuable insights into group behavior. However, there are obvious limitations. The greater level of complexity facing the individual members of a group increases with the number of members interacting. Thus, many of the laboratory studies reported below under group-focused BAR limit the strategic choices available to the interacting parties. As useful as data gleaned from the study of dyads may be, to better understand the group phenomenon in question researchers have turned to alternative research methods relying on naturally occurring events ͑fieldwork, archival data, surveys, and interviews͒. The ability to undertake research on dyads and observe the strategic interaction of the parties may not be as easy as the BAR focusing on the individual. Dyad research at least doubles the number of participants required with a comparable increase in the cost of the experiment. It also can require a high degree of coordination. The participants must be available at the same time and, typically, in the same place. This suggests that research of this type is likely to take place in a laboratory or through fieldwork. The former is likely to mean student participants; the latter, professionals performing their job in their natural environment. This would appear to limit the amount of work of this sort that will be undertaken using nonstudent participants. GROUPS The label “group” in this context is used to include a variety of organizational structures. Group is defined as any collection of individuals greater than two and typically no more than four in laboratory studies. Rarely is it more than five members. This definition is admittedly arbitrary, but consistent with the literature in the area. The above definition does not specify a particular organizational structure͑s͒ for a group. Thus, group as defined for this section includes not only peer groups, but also teams and hierarchical groups. Psychology research on group decision making initially focused on the quality and nature of the individual versus group decisions. Which makes the better decision? Which makes the riskier decisions? For a review, see Sutton and Hayne ͑1997͒ and Daroca ͑1984͒. Sociology was interested in the development of networks ͑e.g., Homans 1951͒ and the affect of context variables on group behavior ͑e.g., Dalton 1959͒. For a review of sociology based studies, see Miller ͑2007͒. More recent studies have focused on the nature of the group processes. How does the composition of the group ͑e.g., temporary or permanent͒ affect its decision? What is the effect of changes in group membership? How does the decision rule used by/imposed on the group affect their decision? Behavioral Research In Accounting American Accounting Association Volume 23, Number 1, 2011
  21. 21. A Proposed Framework for Behavioral Accounting Research 21 BAR on groups has addressed five broad categories: ͑1͒ individual versus group performance, ͑2͒ group decision processes, ͑3͒ the role of technical and accounting systems in group decisions, ͑4͒ the role of incentives, and ͑5͒ the role of a group’s characteristics in its performance. Many studies have asked questions that relate to more than one of the above categories. BAR group research has utilized the full range of research methods including experiments ͑e.g., Young et al. 1993͒, surveys ͑e.g., Chalos and Poon 2000͒, protocols ͑e.g., Bedard et al. 1998͒, video ͑Walker and Aritz 2006͒, and field research ͑e.g., Anderson et al. 2002͒. Participants The type of participants used in group research has varied depending primarily on the subcategory of BAR being studied. As is described below, auditing studies have used auditors as participants whenever possible. Recently, studies have again begun to use students. This reflects both the declining availability of auditors as participants and the belief that student participants possess the appropriate knowledge, skill, and experience for many group tasks. In contrast, the study of groups in other areas, particularly management accounting, has used a more diverse set of participants. Laboratory studies typically have used students, albeit often with significant work experience ͑e.g., Daroca 1984; Rowe 2004͒. Managerial accounting researchers have studied “real people” in field studies ͑e.g., Anderson et al. 2002͒, and surveys of managers reporting on “on the job” experiences ͑e.g., Chalos and Poon 2000͒. Group Decisions and Processes It is interesting to note that the much of the early research on groups in BAR was in auditing ͑Schultz and Reckers 1981; Reckers and Schultz 1982; Trotman et al. 1983͒. This likely reflected the overall level of BAR interest in auditing during this period, as well as the absence of teamwork in U.S. firms at that time. The findings of the auditing BAR studies generally are consistent with earlier non-BAR group research. For example, Schultz and Reckers ͑1981͒ report that decisionmaking groups exhibited higher confidence and less variability than individuals. In a topic more closely related to accounting than generic group research, Reckers and Schultz ͑1982͒ report that groups adhere to the accounting rules more closely than individuals. Indeed, because groups ͑audit teams͒ are the way audits are performed, the use of groups in auditing has been a continuing area of BAR in auditing ͑e.g., Solomon 1987; Reckers and Schultz 1993͒. In management accounting, Daroca ͑1984͒ studied participation in a group setting. He reported that, as Becker and Green ͑1962͒ conjectured, participation could result in group polarization against management, leading to negative rather than positive “gains” from participation. These findings, like those of Zhang ͑2008͒ and Greenberg ͑1990͒, indicate that group involvement may have negative outcomes for the organization if the leader’s style is perceived negatively by the group. Unlike the typical generic group study that focused solely on the group’s output/decision, Bedard et al. ͑1998͒ studied group processes as well as the efficacy of groups versus individuals. They utilized protocols developed from audio tapes to examine communication among group members and identify what type of interactions characterized successful and unsuccessful groups. Because their sample was of necessity small, the findings must be viewed tentatively. However, they raised an important issue by delving into what makes groups effective. Accordingly, they studied process as well as outcomes. Bedard et al. ͑1998͒ also investigated how the voting rule, formal or informal, affects group behavior. Given the range of possible rules ͑e.g., unanimity, majority rule, and leader with a veto͒, it is reasonable to expect that the voting rule could affect the group’s behavior and output/decision ͑Birnberg et al. 1970͒. This issue is relevant to any group decision-making setting within accounting. Given the size of Bedard et al.’s ͑1998͒ sample, it is hard to draw a conclusion. Behavioral Research In Accounting Volume 23, Number 1, 2011 American Accounting Association
  22. 22. 22 Birnberg Chalos and Poon ͑2000͒ used the group setting to study participation. They used a survey of and interviews with 177 managers comprising 55 budget teams in a single firm to collect data on the effect of group process on perceived quality of group decisions. They studied how the presence of participation in the group’s capital budgeting process affects information sharing, budget emphasis, and self-reported measures of performance. They report that participation positively affects the perception of the amount of performance information available, amount of information sharing, and the reported importance of the budget process. However, it is central to note that the researchers did not observe the groups in action. Role of Decision Support Systems Just as an individual’s decision making can be affected by the use of a decision support system ͑DSS͒, group decision making can be altered by a DSS. Murthy and Kerr ͑2003͒ and Kerr and Murthy ͑2004͒ investigated the impact of different types of computer-mediated communication ͑CMC͒ in different task settings on the quality of the group’s decision. Typically, the conditions compared are face-to-face communication and computer-based system͑s͒. The findings indicate that face-to-face groups outperformed CMC groups when problem solving was the measure of performance ͑see also Rowe 2004͒. Interestingly, both CMC and face-to-face were equally effective in generating ideas, though performance appears to be sensitive to the task setting and the type of CMC. Kerr and Murthy ͑2004͒ report that a bulletin board form of CMC outperforms “chat rooms” and face-to-face communication in a decision setting that requires the participants to exchange uniquely held information to reach a successful conclusion. One caveat in evaluating the above findings is the use of student participants. Ho ͑1999͒ used audit partners, managers, and seniors to study the role of computerized decision support system relative to face-to-face communication in a going-concern evaluation. Her study reports that groups of both types considered evidence that individuals did not. She reports when comparing the two groups that CMC groups had greater agreement on the going-concern assessment than did face-to-face groups and had greater satisfaction with their evaluation. A possible explanation is that the “impersonal” CMC setting may neutralize the ability of an influential/powerful individual͑s͒ in the group to exert undue influence in the group’s decision. Carpenter ͑2007͒ also used auditors in a group research study examining the recommendation of SAS No. 99, which requires the use of groups formally in the audit process through “brainstorming” sessions. Because the brainstorming literature in psychology using students had not uniformly reported the synergistic behavior expected from group discussion ͑Dennis and Valacich 1993͒, she studied the process in an audit setting using auditors as participants. She hypothesized that brainstorming groups would perform better than individuals or nominal groups in part because the group members were professionals “doing their job” in the experiment rather than student participants performing a mundane task. Her results support the benefits of brainstorming. Hoffman and Zimbelman ͑2009͒ extended Carpenter ͑2007͒. They used brainstorming to improve the audit program. In their study, a panel of experts brainstorm potential modifications in the fraud detection program for a case study. They report that auditors subsequently given the case and the modified program performed better than those who were not. Based on the findings of Ho ͑1999͒, Carpenter ͑2007͒, and Hoffman and Zimbelman ͑2009͒, it would appear that the findings of generic group research may not always apply to BAR. The good news for BAR is that it opens a wide variety of questions. The bad news is the ability to secure access to professionals functioning in a group setting. In its early stages, research on computer-aided group decision making may need to rely on field and archival data. Role of Incentive Systems As in other areas, the role of incentive systems has been very important in group research. Management accounting group research recognizes the conflict between group incentives and Behavioral Research In Accounting American Accounting Association Volume 23, Number 1, 2011
  23. 23. A Proposed Framework for Behavioral Accounting Research 23 individual incentives. When the contribution of the individual is identifiable, an individual-based incentive system prevents the free rider problem, where the individual makes a minimal contribution to the group effort and secures a disproportionately large reward. However, when the only observable measure is the group outcome, the manager is limited on what he/she can base the payoff ͑e.g., Drake et al. 1999͒. Researchers have attempted to ascertain ways in which free rider behavior in groups might be mitigated. Towry ͑2003͒ argues that information on peers’ performance that is unknown to the principal/manager is observable by group members. Thus, the group members are capable of mutual monitoring. She reports that the greater the members’ group identity, the more effective their ability to monitor each other’s behavior ͑mutual monitoring͒ and the greater degree of coordination they can achieve. Rowe ͑2004͒, in a study that examined both systems and incentives, takes a slightly different approach to resolving the free rider problem. Rather than using monitoring, he used the “information system” to inform the group’s members that free riding in his task actually was suboptimal behavior for both the free rider and the group. Rowe ͑2004͒ modeled the free rider problem as a public goods dilemma. Each member of a four-person group decided how much of their endowment to contribute anonymously to a common pool. The amount in the pool was tripled and divided equally among the group’s four members without regard to how much each had contributed to the pool. Obviously, the self-interested strategy is to contribute nothing and share whatever is in the tripled common pool. If all four members of the group follow a free rider strategy, they would be no worse off than they were at the beginning of the experiment. At the other extreme, if all members of the group contributed their entire endowment to the pool, everyone would be significantly better off. Rowe ͑2004͒ found that the group members contribute ͑and therefore receive͒ more when the information system informs an intact group of the benefits of contributing. This occurs even though the information system did not provide any new information and there is no communication among group members. The Impact of Extra-Group Factors While all of the above studies were laboratory-based, BAR also has examined the behavior of real groups. This permits the researcher to observe the effect of the setting in which the decision takes place. Rowe et al. ͑2008͒ and Anderson et al. ͑2002͒ used two different research methods to study the decision processes of groups in their natural setting. Both papers study ͑among other things͒ group conflict, the sharing of horizontal asymmetric information, and the potential role of consultants. Rowe et al. ͑2008͒ report the results of a longitudinal, participant-observer field study of a particular cross-functional group within a division of a firm. The group was formed by management to try to reduce costs. Initially, each group member behaved in a self-interested fashion to retain slack and benefit their particular function in the organization. The outcome of the study shows that consultants, by redesigning the information system, were able to mitigate selfinterested behavior ͑conflict͒ and replace it with more group-oriented behaviors. Rowe ͑2004͒8 tested this finding in a laboratory setting. Post-decision, Anderson et al. ͑2002͒ used a survey supplemented with interviews of group members within a single firm. They examined the effects of a large number of variables ͑e.g., conflict resolution, group size, presence of consultants, importance of decision͒ on the complexity and speed of adoption of the ABC system by a group. One of the most significant findings is that complexity of the ABC system increased with group size. They did not include any data on the group’s subsequent performance. 8 Despite the dates of publication, the field research was conducted before the experimental study. Behavioral Research In Accounting Volume 23, Number 1, 2011 American Accounting Association