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Behavioral Research in Accounting

Volume 1, 1989
Printed in USA

Behavioral Accounting•
A Personal View*
Edwin H. Caplan
Untverstty of New Mexico

ABSTRACT
This paper presents personal views about the development of behavioral
accounting-how it evolved, where it is today, and where it might be going.
Behavioral accounting research emerged in the 1960s as accountants
began to apply concepts from the behavioral sciences in the setting of the
new business school philosophy of the time. The quality of research to date
has been mixed, but there have been some excellent contributions.
Suggestions for improving quality include (1) the establishment of a
research institute, (2) more joint research efforts with behavioral scientists,
and (3) a greater use of case studies. In the future, behavioral researchers in
accounting need to be concerned about the incorporation of behavioral
issues as an integral part of the accounting curriculum and greater
acceptance of their research findings in practice. The impact on practice of
behavioral research in accounting has been minimal, primarily because of
the prevalence of organizational attitudes that are inconsistent with the
findings of such research.

THE EVOLUTION OF BEHAVIORAL ACCOUNTING


The Editor has asked me to reflect on the development of behavioral
accounting-how it evolved, where it is today, and where it might be
going. In keeping with that charge. I have chosen to adopt a less formal
approach than will be found elsewhere in this Journal. There are
several excellent reviews of the literature which provide comprehensive
bibliographies relating to various aspects of behavioral research in
accounting (for example. Ferris I 19871). It is not my intention to
duplicate these efforts, but rather to offer some personal views on
progress in the field.
The emergence of what has become known as "behavioral account•
ing" began in the early 1960s. Prior to that time. the mainstream of
academic research in accounting was primarily related to reporting on
current practice and examining specific accounting procedures. There
were certainly exceptions to the emphasis on current practice. Each

• Invited Paper.

109

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110 Edwin H. Caplan

generation of accountants has provided a few individuals who were


more interested in "why" than "how"-in concepts rather than
procedures (see, for example. the inflation accounting literature of the
1930s and 1940s). But even these exceptions often were restricted to
the application of models from traditional economics. Accounting
research was not only limited in scope. it was also limited in
methodology. While surveys of practice were common. empirical
research designed to test independent/dependent variable relation•
ships was virtually nonexistent. In short. the discipline of accounting
could hardly have been described as an area of intense intellectual
activity.
The changes in both the scope and quality of accounting research
that began in the early 1960s. including the development of behavioral
research. can be traced to two external forces. The first was the
increased attention to organizational issues in the behavioral and
social sciences. The second was a dramatic change in the view of the
fundamental mission of business schools.
Organization theory was born in the years following World War II
when psychologists, sociologists, and others began to formally apply
concepts and methodologies from their disciplines to the study of
behavior in modern. large-scale organizations. In retrospect. it is
evident that these developments had far-reaching implications for
accounting, but they were largely ignored by accounting researchers at
the time. Argyris' work on the behavioral effects of budgets, for
instance, was published in 1952, but had little impact on accounting
thought for nearly ten years. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that
the attention of accountants was on a narrowly defined view of
accounting that was technical in substance and limited in breadth. In
fact, some of the leading academic accountants from that era
continued for many years to argue that whatever "behavioral
accounting" was. it certainly was not "accounting."
The force that eventually diminished the intellectual barriers
between behavioral science and accounting originated outside the
accounting discipline. In the 1950s and early 1960s there was a
fundamental change in the philosophy of business education. This
change was precipitated by the Gordon-Howell 119591 and Pierson
119591 reports which took issue with the prevailing "how-to-do-it"
character of most business school curricula. These reports suggested
that business education should go beyond the uncritical acceptance of
current practice and that the study of management could be
approached scientifically. They further argued that education for
business should incorporate concepts and methodologies from the
social and behavioral sciences. The proposals contained in these
documents were not entirely new. but the widespread attention they
received produced almost immediate results. Not only did business

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A Personal View 111

curricula begin to change, but many business schools took the


initiative in establishing teaching and research relationships with
behavioral .sctence departments. Some business schools added behav•
ioral scientists to their faculties, either directly or through joint
appointments. These developments encouraged the cross-fertilization
of ideas between business faculty and behavioral scientists and
facilitated multi-disciplinary research efforts. Perhaps more signifi•
cantly in terms of long-range effects, business doctoral programs
began to reflect the new philosophy. These programs added courses in
organization theory. behavioral science, and research methodology.
It would be misleading to suggest that the developments described
above occurred simultaneously in all, or even most, business schools.
Fortunately, however. they did occur in some of the leading schools,
those that were responsible for the doctoral education of many of the
accounting faculty who would be influential in determining the
character of academic accounting in future years. In these schools,
doctoral students were encouraged to study' the behavioral sciences
(primarily psychology. sociology, and organization theory) and to
explore the relevance of behavioral concepts to accounting. Moreover,
these explorations were guided by faculty members who had benefited
from the cross-fertilization referred to earlier. It Is difficult, and
probably dangerous, to attempt to identify the earliest efforts in this
direction. However, as a point of historical interest, it seems that the
conceptual foundations underlying much of what has occurred since
can be traced to pioneering work at four universities-Berkeley,
Carnegie-Mellon, Chicago. and Ohio State. The results of this activity
began to appear in the accounting literature during the early 1960s
and by 1969, when the American Accounting Association established a
Committee on the Behavioral Science Content of the Accounting
Curriculum, the behavioral role of accounting had become an accepted
area of study.
An additional influence on academic accounting research resulting
from the new business school environment was the introduction of
scientific research methodology. As a result of this influence, there has
been a major shift in emphasis from unsubstantiated opinions and
descriptive surveys of practice to hypothesis-testing and theory
formulation. In order to fully appreciate the magnitude of this change.
the reader is encouraged to compare a current issue of The Accounting
Review with an issue from the 1950s.

BEHAVIORAL ACCOUNTING RESEARCH TO DATE•


AN APPRAISAL
EARLY EFFORTS
As noted above, the intellectual foundations for the evolution of
behavioral accounting research were provided by developments in the

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112 Edwin H. Caplan

behavioral sciences. Sociologists were studying organizations from the


perspective of role-theory. an outgrowth of Max Weber's pioneering
work on the bureaucratic model I 194 71. Psychologists were developing
theories of motivation based on the research of Mayo I 19331 and
Maslow I 1943 I. Both of these streams of thought had a significant
influence on behavioral research in accounting. But. perhaps the
greatest influence in this regard can be traced to the emergence of the
"decision-making" approach to the study of organizations [ Simon.
1957; March and Simon, 19581. While drawing heavily on sociology
and psychology, it differed from these disciplines in its emphasis on
the decision as the basic element of study in organizations. This
emphasis, in turn, led to an examination of the perceptions, cognitive
abilities. and value structures of decision makers as well as the
organizational processes that Influence them. More specifically. the
conceptual models proposed by March and Simon provided a
framework within which accounting researchers could begin to
investigate the behavioral role of accounting in organizations.
Early contributions to behavioral accounting research tended to be
exploratory in nature and represented efforts to define the field.
demonstrate the relevance of behavioral issues to the theory and
practice of accounting. and develop conceptual models. Examples of
such work from the 1960s include Devine I 1960). Stedry I 1960).
Becker and Green I 19621. Bedford I 19621. Churchill I 1962}. Benston
[19631. Gordon. 119631. Golembiewski (19641. Bruns (1965, 1968).
Caplan I 1966. 1968). Birnberg and Nath [ 19671. Hofstede [ 19671.
Cook [ 1968 J. and Decoster and Fertakls I 19681. By the end of the
decade. the emphasis had begun to change to the application of
behavioral concepts in the investigation of specific accounting issues.

THE 19708 AND 19808

Research efforts since 1970 have been so numerous and so diverse


that attempting to list even a very limited representative sample of the
literature would consume the balance of this article. However, the
several broad streams of thought that have emerged might be
categorized in the following manner.
I. Financial Accounting
A. Behavior of managers and accountants in the preparation
and presentation of financial information.
B. Characteristics and behavior of users of financial informa•
tion.
II. Managerial Accounting
A. Individual behavioral variables.
B. Organizational issues.

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A Personal View 113

III. Auditing
A. Behavior of individuals in an auditing environment.
B. Auditor judgment decisions.
IV. Human Resource Accounting
V. Social Accounting
VI. Accounting Information Systems and Human Information
Processing
The reader will note that, in the above classification, Items I through
III are consistent with the usual delineation of accounting activities.
Items IV through V1 represent areas of inquiry that may be applicable
in any accounting setting. While these later items might logically be
included in Items I-III. I consider them important enough to warrant
separate identification.
Before looking more closely at each of these areas, it might be
appropriate to raise what I consider to be the main theme of this
article. In my view. the crucial test of the success of research in
accounting relates to the extent that the findings of such research are
incorporated into the practice of accounting. Applying that test to
behavioral research today suggests that we still have a long way to go
before we can claim success. One prerequisite for achieving this
success may well involve improving the quality of the research. But
there already exist enough valid research studies and findings to
justify numerous applications in practice. A more important pre•
requisite is that practitioners believe it is in their best interest to
implement concepts from behavioral research in accounting. Unfortu•
nately. such an attitude does not yet seem to exist. We will examine
this issue at greater length later.
Financial accounting. With respect to financial accounting. the
research emphasis has been properly on the "user." Behavioral
research has examined such topics as user characteristics and
decision models as well as various alternatives for communicating
accounting information to users. Some attention also has been
devoted to the behavior of accounting policy-makers in interpreting
user needs. The current focus of research in this area seems
appropriate. However. future researchers will need to deal with two
important questions. The first is the extent to which the efficient
market hypothesis actually describes user behavior. If users can "see
through" accounting conventions and reporting practices then much
of the research on user reactions to financial statement data may be
unnecessary. It is unlikely that the efficient market hypothesis ts
consistently valid in its strong form, but the extent of its validity in any
form will certainly influence behavioral accounting research on
financial accounting matters. The second question has to do with the
behavioral effects of the financial information generated by the

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114 Edwin H. Caplan

traditional accounting model. This model produces historical data and


assumes that such data are useful for decision-making about the
future. But. there has been very little research that directly supports
this assumption. The critical issue here concerns the potential value of
behavioral research on an accounting model that may be largely
irrelevant to most legitimate user needs.
Management accounting. There seems to be general agreement that
the objective of management accounting should be to encourage and
assist managers in making organizationally desirable decisions and
motivating others to carry out the results of such decisions. Research
in this area has examined the behavioral effects of budgeting and
performance reporting as well as such topics as motivation, percep•
tion. and information-processing. Some of this work has been very
good. but we still lack the kind of overall framework that would
facilitate a unified approach to the diverse pieces being studied.
Nevertheless, I believe that the usefulness of behavioral accounting
research is more likely to be demonstrated in the managerial area than
In any other aspect of accounting. The reason for this belief is the
direct and observable relationships between management accounting
and behavior in organizations, coupled with the critical importance of
improving the quality of management in American corporations.
Auditing. Behavioral research in auditing has investigated the
behavior of individuals in CPA firms. There are a number of issues still
to be examined in this regard. For example, one matter worthy of study
Is the extent to which auditing firm personnel practices tend to drive
out of the organization the very individuals ( those who are creative and
conceptually oriented) who would be most likely to contribute to
solving the immense problems facing the auditing profession today. A
second major area of behavioral research in auditing concerns audit
judgment decisions. This area has produced some valuable findings in
the past and will undoubtedly continue to be a fruitful topic of
research.
Other areas. Both human resource accounting and social account•
ing appear to have lost momentum in recent years. Human resource
accounting is a particularly good example of the reluctance of
practitioners to apply findings from behavioral research in account•
ing. The available models are workable and the need for such data
should be evident. Yet, human resource accounting has gained
virtually no acceptance in practice.
Research on accounting information systems and human informa•
tion processing examines such topics as the structure of information
systems. the effects of lndiVidual behavioral characteristics on the
processing and uses of information, and the relationship between
decision task characteristics and information systems. Much of the
research in this area has involved laboratory studies. While the results

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A Personal View 115

of these studies are sometimes conflicting. the research appears to be


potentially very useful. Indeed, since the emphasis is on the effects of
accounting information on decision-making. this area may well
represent the most fundamental stream of behavioral accounting
research and the one most likely to provide an overall research
structure for the entire field.
To summarize this discussion, behavioral researchers in accounting
have been studying what appear to be relevant issues, but research has
not had the impact on practice that might be expected given the
importance of these issues.

RESEARCH QUALITY
Looking back on the evolution of behavioral accounting research,
several observations about research quality seem in order. The quality
of the research to date has been mixed. There have been some
outstanding contributions. but there have also been some rather poor
efforts. The most obvious examples of poor research are questionnaire
studies that are neither well worded nor rigorously designed and
which often have a sample size that is too small to be statistically
meaningful. Other examples relate to researchers who apply a favorite
methodological technique indiscriminately in analyzing a topic that
does not particularly lend itself to analysis by that technique. Still
other examples involve the use of elaborate quantitative analyses to
investigate issues that have little substantive content-Le .. they fail to
answer the fundamental question "so what?" Additionally. some
studies have not been very helpful in expanding our knowledge-either
becuase the issues were too narrow, or because the studies did not
demonstrate a sufficient grasp of the underlying behavioral concepts.
At a more general level, behavioral accounting research might
appropriately be described as a scattering of disjointed studies in
search of a model. Such models are difficult to formulate and. as in the
behavioral sciences generally, it is unlikely that any single overall
conceptual model can be developed for the behavioral role of
accounting. Nevertheless, a stronger theoretical framework. or set of
theoretical frameworks, is clearly needed to provide some direction to
individual research efforts.
While there is ample evidence to justify criticism of behavioral
research in accounting to date, such criticism should be kept in
perspective. The field is still quite new and the issues are complex.
Improvements in theory and methodology, as well as a more
sophisticated understanding and application of concepts from the
underlying disciplines, can be expected as behavioral research in
accounting matures. It is also important to recognize that all research
about human behavior is characterized by considerable uncertainty.
There is no single unified theory in psychology. Rather, there are a

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116 Edwin H. Caplan

variety of conflicting theories not only about behavior in its totality,


but even about specific dimensions of behavior such as motivation and
perception. It seems unreasonable to expect that the behavioral role of
accounting will be any less ambiguous or uncertain an area of study
than the underlying disciplines upon which it rests.
After due allowance is made for the Inherent difficulties and
complexities of behavioral research in accounting, and the fact that
such research began little more that 25 years ago. the record of
progress to date seems more than satisfactory. A number of important
issues have been identified and studied; there are many examples of
thoughtful and well-designed research; an Accounting, Behavior, and
Organizations Section of the American Accounting Association has
been established; articles dealing with the behavioral roles of
accounting have appeared in all the leading accounting journals; and
Accounting, Organizations, and Society. an excellent journal dealing
specifically with behavioral topics in accounting, has made a major
contribution to unifying the field and providing an outlet for quality
research. Nevertheless, it is clear that much remains to be accom•
plished in improving the quality of future research. The following
suggestions are offered in this regard.

IMPROVEMENTS IN QUALITY
First. perhaps it is time to establish a "Behavioral Research in
Accounting Institute." This Institute could provide a unifying force by
identifying significant research issues and sponsoring. or at least
encouraging, integrated studies to investigate these issues. The
appropriate location for such an Institute would be a major university.
Funding might be obtained from a combination of sources including
the university, government research grants. private firms. and
professional accounting organizations.
Second. accountants conducting behavioral research should at•
tempt to engage in more joint research activities with behavioral
scientists. Many behavioral researchers in accounting do not have the
in-depth understanding of behavioral concepts and methodologies
necessary for accomplishing truly significant work-but they do have a
comprehensive understanding of the accounting process. Combining
these two sets of talents is such an obvious way of raising the quality of
behavioral accounting research that it is hard to understand why there
have been so few joint efforts in the past. This suggestion for more
joint research activities is not meant to imply that accountants
interested in the behavioral role of accounting are incapable of doing
worthwhile research on their own. But it does imply that, if they
choose not to collaborate with behavioral scientists. they should
proceed cautiously and recognize their limitations.
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A Personal View 117

A third suggestion relates to the use of case studies. Instead of


continuing to focus almost entirely on relatively narrow aspects of
behavior examined in isolation, some research attention should be
devoted to comprehensive case studies of the behavioral implications
of accounting in real world environments. Such research should
include both in-depth studies in single firms and the examination of
specific variables in multi-firm studies. There are problems associated
with case studies. They are difficult to design rigorously. expensive,
and time consuming. Further. they require considerable expertise in
identifying appropriate behavioral concepts and applying these
concepts to specific situations. Perhaps most importantly, the
principal value of case studies lies in the ability to generalize the
findings from specific cases into broader prediction models. and this is
not easily done. On the positive side, case studies permit the
researcher to examine the behavioral effects of accounting in the
complex and interactive environment in which accounting actually
exists. Without this "context," the study of accounting becomes an
abstraction, removed from reality-and that is particularly unfortu•
nate for a discipline that is essentially pragmatic in nature. (The
importance of case studies as a dimension of accounting research is
more fully discussed in Kaplan ( 1984 I and Johnson and Kaplan
I 1987).) These remarks should not be interpreted as an argument
against the appropriateness of other forms of research, but rather as
an argument for the increased use of case studies as an additional
dimension of behavioral research in accounting.

THE FUTIJRE OF BEHAVIORAL


ACCOUNTING RESEARCH

Substantial progress has been made in a relatively short time in


establishing the legitimacy of behavioral accounting research. A
considerable amount of tentative and exploratory work has been
accomplished. As the field matures, it may be expected that higher
standards will be applied to research efforts and that these efforts will
exhibit increased sophistication both conceptually and method•
ologically. Since the number of individuals capable of doing high
quality behavioral accounting research does not seem to be expanding
rapidly, it may also be expected that future progress will not occur at a
dramatic pace. Such developments as the establishment of the
Institute proposed earlier, increased interdisciplinary research efforts
and well-designed case studies would, I believe. contribute to both the
quantity and the quality of research. The remainder of this article is
devoted to several additional observations related to the future of
behavioral accounting.
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118 Edwin H. Capl.m

INFLUENCE ON ACCOUNTING EDUCATION


Behavioral accountants need to make a greater effort to persuade
their academic accounting colleagues of the importance of the
behavioral implications of accounting. Those of us interested in the
behavioral role of accounting seem to spend most of our time and effort
talking to each other. Not only is there little interaction with behavioral
scientists. but there is little effective communication with other
academic accountants.
The typical financial accounting text still has virtually no discussion
of behavioral matters. As might be anticipated, there is somewhat
more attention to behavioral considerations in cost and managerial
accounting textbooks, but most of these texts continue to be woefully
inadequate in their coverage. At best. only a few behavioral issues are
mentioned and the discussions that do appear are usually so terse that
they are largely meaningless. For example, it is difficult to understand
how an adequate comprehension of budgeting and standard-setting
can be obtained without some awareness of the relationships between
these accounting processes and such behavioral concepts as as•
piration levels and motivation theory. Yet these important behavioral
considerations receive very little attention in cost and managerial
texts. if they are mentioned at all.
While it is probably expecting too much to hope that behavioral
matters will ever achieve the level of attention devoted to Generally
Accepted Accounting Principles in financial accounting courses (or
equivalent unit calculations in cost accounting courses). somewhat
more emphasis on behavioral topics would be appropriate. The
fundamental issue here is that. despite an ever growing body of
relevant literature dealing with the behavioral implications of account•
ing, there has been surprisingly little change in the content of
accounting education. Some of us have come to believe that
accounting is primarily a behavioral process and try to convey that
notion to our students. But it appears that the vast majority of
accounting students today are provided with a view of accounting that
is little different from the view they would have received 20 years ago.

INFLUENCE ON ACCOUNTING PRACTICE


Let us now examine the most serious difficulty that I believe faces
behavioral accountants. Accounting is a pragmatic discipline. The
ultimate test of accounting research is the ability of that research to
influence the practice of accounting. Yet, as suggested earlier,
behavioral accounting research has had very little impact on practice
to date. This lack of impact may be due in part to the failure of
behavioral accounting research to generate compelling and persuasive
findings. But in my view. the real explanation lies elsewhere. It is
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A Personal View 119

trnbedded in.the nature of management philosophy and practice in our


society.
The dysfunctional consequences of focusing on short-run profit
have been discussed in the management and accounting literature so
often in recent years that the issue borders on becoming trite. (For an
excellent discussion of this and related issues see Kaplan [ 19841 and
Johnson and Kaplan [ 19871.) However, there is little evidence to
suggest any significant movement away from this short-run focus by
corporate managers. The problem is pervasive. It begins with the
emphasis of financial analysts on quarterly and annual profit data
generated by the traditional financial accounting model which defines
profit in a narrow and short-run manner. (Recently, the chief executive
officer of a major airline was replaced at least partly because his
actions-designed to implement a long-term strategy-had resulted in
a detrimental effect on current returns to the stockholders.) Short-run
profit performance not only largely determines the tenure of corporate
managers, it is also a major factor in their total compensation because
of the widespread use of bonus plans. Under these circumstances. it is
unlikely that very many corporate officers in publicly-owned compa•
nies are going to jeopardize their positions by trading-off short-run
profits for improved long-run performance. Moreover, as long as top
management continues to emphasize short-run factors. lower-level
managers are obviously going to do the same.
The organizational environment and decision-making that accom•
pany a short-run profit focus have been widely documented•
inadequate funding for research and development, reluctance to
modernize plant and equipment, lack of attention to product quality
and customer service, and an autocratic and oppressive attitude
toward employees.
Accountants in practice have been conditioned by their education
and organizational experiences to emphasize short-run measures and
pay little attention to the behavioral consequences of what they do.
This attitude is absolutely consistent with the focus of top manage•
ment. So the accounting system provides top management with a
punitive tool for control in an autocratic. non-forgiving environment
and establlshes a feedback loop in which short-run accounting data
reinforce managerial attention to short-run issues.
The only surprising thing about the foregoing comments is that they
are being written (again) in the late 1980s. One would expect that all
the attention devoted to management style and corporate climate in
recent years would have brought about significant changes. This is
particularly true in view of the considerable evidence concerning the
shortcomings of U.S. productivity and competitiveness as a result of
the emphasis on the short-run and other questionable management
practices. Certainly some companies have changed during the past ten

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120 Edwin H. Caplan

years. but I strongly suspect that most U.S. firms still follow the
management philosophy and practices described here. The changes
that have been made are either in the direction of more of the wrong
kind of control or are so superficial as to be meaningless. Managers
may have changed what they say about what they do, but it seems they
have not made very many changes in what they actually do.
Is it any wonder that behavioral accounting research has had so little
impact on practice? Such research often examines ways in which
accounting can contribute to Increased goal congruence and improved
employee and managerial motivation. Much of the findings of this
research suggest the need for accounting and management actions
that are inconsistent with a primary focus on short-run measures and
autocratic practices. Thus. it is likely that, no matter how rigorous the
research or how persuasive the findings. they will continue to be
ignored by most accountants and managers.
There is· another possible explanation for the lack of acceptance of
behavioral accounting by both academics and practitioners. We have
already noted that behavioral accounting research-indeed all behav•
ioral research-is characterized by a considerable amount of uncer•
tainty. Such research involves conflicting theories and numerous
ambiguities. The traditional accounting model. on the other hand, has
the appearance of a high degree of certainty. Debits always equal
credits. journals and ledgers always balance, and the concept of net
income carries with it the illusion of being a very precise amount. It is
at least possible that students who are attracted to the study of
accounting tend to be individuals who are more comfortable with
certainty than with uncertainty. Moreover. present-day accounting
education can be expected to reinforce this tendency to favor certainty.
The environment of accounting has changed tremendously from the
days when accountants were primarily concerned with performing
clerical tasks. but the education of accountants still seems to
concentrate on (increasingly complex) bookkeeping procedures. Thus,
as accounting students move on in their careers to become practi•
tioners (and academics). it is likely that many carry with them a need
for closure and an intolerance of ambiguity. If these assumptions are
correct, they may represent another reason for the apparent reluctance
of many practitioners and academics to incorporate findings from
behavioral research into the practice and teaching of accounting. I
have no solution to offer to this problem beyond stating the
obvious-the need to increase the intellectual and conceptual content
of accounting education.
CONCLUSION
To the extent that the observations set forth in these pages have
been critical, they have been more critical of the environment of

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A Personal View 121

behavioral accounting research than of the research itself. Behavioral


accounting research and organization theory research in general are
essentially concerned with improving long-run performance. The
attention of corporate managers in the United States still seems to be
directed at short-run performance as measured by traditional financial
accounting. While behavioral science has undoubtedly contributed to
some desirable changes in some organizations, the overall failure of
American managers to build effective customer and employee oriented
enterprises is apparent to everyone-except, perhaps, to them. A major
contribution in this regard would be the modification of financial
reporting practices to include a broader range of variables (such as
human resource accounting data) and less emphasis on short-run
performance. But. practicing management and public accountants (as
well as academic accountants) appear to be as reluctant to change as
are managers. One thing seems certain. Until management attitudes
change. the potential contributions of behavioral research in account•
ing will remain largely unrealized.
Some researchers would no doubt argue that they are indifferent
concerning the possible applications of their research results. The test
of good research is, after all, in the quality of the research itself. It is
appropriate to view research as a worthwhile intellectual activity in its
own right independent of any applications. There is nothing inconsis•
tent with this view of individual research efforts and a broader
perspective that relates the ultimate test of the success of behavioral
accounting research tn general to the extent of its acceptance in
practice.
In summary. the greatest problem that behavioral accounting
researchers wUI face in the future does not relate to improving the
quality of their research. Improvements may be necessary but they will
come with time and experience. Rather, the problem involves an
apathy in the organizational world among the very groups that might
benefit the most from the results of such research. Unfortunately, the
solution to this problem appears to be largely beyond the control of
behavioral accountants.
Our predictions for the future need not be entirely pessimistic.
Given sufficient time, market forces are highly efficient in bringing
about change. Managers and accountants will change when these
market forces make it clear that change is necessary for survival. The
present condition of the American economy suggests that behavioral
accountants may not have to wait too Jong for this to happen.
REFERENCES
Argyrts, C., The Impact of Budgets on People (Ithaca. N.Y.: The
Controllershtp Foundation, 1952).
Becker, S. W., and D. Green, Jr., "Budgeting and Employee Behavior,"
The Journal of Business (October 1962), pp. 392-402.

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122 Edwin H. Caplan

Bedford, N. M .. "Behavioral Science and Accounting Research."


Proceedings: International Conference on Accounting Education
(Urbana. Ill.: Center for International Education and Research in
Accounting, University of Illinois, 1962). pp. 93-99.
Benston, G. J .. "The Role of the Firm's Accounting System for
Motivation," The Accounting Review (April 1963). pp. 347-354.
Birnberg. J. C .. and R. Nath, "Implications of Behavioral Science for
Managerial Accounting." The Accounting Review (July 1967). pp.
468-479.
Bruns. W. J .. Jr .. "Inventory Valuation and Management Decisions,"
The Accounting Review (April 1965). pp. 345-35 7.
--. "Accounting Information and Decision Making: Some Behav•
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