Framework Paper

Topics: Decision theory, Research, Decision making Pages: 92 (28198 words) Published: March 24, 2013
Vol. 23, No. 1
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 BAR 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.

n the 20 or so years since Birnberg and Shields 1989 reviewed behavioral accounting research BAR , 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 2001 . 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 2006 . This literature has had an impact on BAR Moser 1998; Callahan et al. 2006 . Legal researchers, heavily influenced by the writings of Kahneman and Tversky e.g., Kahneman and Tversky 1979 , have begun to actively pursue behavioral issues see Sunstein 2000 . A strong behavioral school even has developed within finance e.g., Thaler 1993; Barberis and Thaler 2003 . Medical researchers have joined with behavioral researchers to investigate


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



issues such as how individuals react to prospective changes in the state of their health Udel et al. 2005 . Even philosophy has developed a set of experimental researchers Knobe 2003; Appiah 2007 and a journal. Emerging methods for researching old questions are altering the form of behavioral research, such as neuroeconomics Knudsen et al. 2007 . 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, 1998 , and empiricists who have utilized aggregated data to test these models e.g., La Porta et al. 1997; Ittner 2007 .

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...
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