Accounting, accountants and accountability

Accounting is the research discipline that examines the role of accounting information in companies´ communications, both externally and internally. Accounting information plays a central role in our society. It does so within and between organizations, and between organizations and their wider stakeholders, and almost anywhere else where agents are formally or informally accountable to others. One of the key functions of accounting information, and the accountants that produce and report such information, is to explain and justify choices and outcomes to fulfil accountability demands. For example, managers justify and explain their investment decisions to their superiors. Firms justify and explain their polices to their shareholders and other stakeholders. The provision of such information is never neutral, that is, many decisions made by managers and the firms the work in are influenced by the need to justify and explain. For example, managers and firms may choose investments that are easy to account for, rather than those that are rational, such that they are optimal to the firm, and maximize firm value. This PhD project aims to provide a better understanding of the role of accountants in this context, using neuroscientific theory and method. While the project aims generally to investigate if and how accountants are able to safeguard rationality in the context of accountability pressure, the specific objective of this Ph.D. project is to study the neuro-economic and neuro-psychological impact of accountability. The expectation is that more specific research questions are developed that will be examined using field and lab-experiments using naturalistic measurements such as fMRI, EEG and eye-tracking. The structure of this Ph.D project will be as follows. During the first year, the Ph.D student will receive high-quality training in accounting (and finance) research as well as (applied) econometric methods. At the end of the first year, the student will have developed a first proposal for three empirical studies, having much independence in selecting a research focus. During the following three years, these studies will be carried out and gradually developed into three working papers that are potentially publishable in high-quality academic journals. Especially during the early stages of the project, the Ph.D. student will intensively cooperate with the members of the supervisory team.


Accounting, accountability, management control, rationality, human cognition, neuroscience.


See above


The identified research questions will be examined using experimental research methods involving neuroscience methods such as fMRI, EEG and eye-tracking.

Required Profile

The candidate has (a) a background in accounting, finance, economics, (cognitive) neuroscience, or psychology (b) good quantitative and communicative skills, (c) an international focus, and (d) an interest in accounting, corporate communication and/or corporate incentive schemes.

Expected output

The goal of the project is that the PhD candidate completes three research papers that are potentially publishable in leading accounting journals such as The Accounting Review, Journal of Accounting Research, Accounting, Organizations & Society, Review of Accounting Studies and Contemporary Accounting Research or in journals at the same impact level within related business disciplines.


The decision whether or not to cooperate with other universities or research groups depends on future project choices. It is expected, however, that the Ph.D. candidate will spend at least 6 months at an international university as a visiting scholar.

Societal relevance

This research project has a strong potential to feed the organizational and societal debates about the optimal design of accountability and governance structures, including implications for their training, promotion and selection.

Scientific relevance

The project systematically evaluates the role of accounting and accountants within organizations and society, both conceptually and empirically. It also spurs the development of more realistic models of accounting and accountants’ behaviors of accountants.

Literature references

Barton, J., Berns, G. S., and Brooks, A. M. (2014). The neuroscience behind the stock market’s reaction to corporate earnings news. The Accounting Review 89 (6): 1945–1977.

Birnberg, J. G., and Ganguly, A. R. (2012). Is neuroaccounting waiting in the wings? An essay. Accounting, Organizations and Society 37 (1): 1–13.

Boynton, G. M., Engel, S. A., Glover, G. H., and Heeger, D. J. (1996). Linear systems analysis of functional magnetic resonance imaging in human V1. The Journal of Neuroscience 16: 4207–4221.

Boksem, M.A.S., Kostermans, E., Milivojevic, B., De Cremer, D. Social status determines how we monitor and evaluate our performance (2012) Social, Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 7, 304-313.

Boksem, M.A.S., Ruys, K.I., Aarts, H. Facing disapproval: Performance monitoring in a social context (2011) Social Neuroscience, 6(4), 360-368.

Boksem, M.A.S., Kostermans, E., De Cremer, D. Failing where others have succeeded - Medial Frontal Negativity tracks failure in a social context (2011) Psychophysiology, 48(7), 973-979.

Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA). (2010). CIMA code of ethics: For professional accountants. London.

Eskenazi, P. I., Hartmann, F. G. H., and Rietdijk, W. J. R. (2016). Why controllers compromise on their fiduciary duties: EEG evidence on the role of the human mirror neuron system. Accounting, Organizations and Society 50: 41–50.

Farrell, A. M., Goh, J. O. S., and White, B. J. (2014). The effect of performance-based incentive contracts on System 1 and System 2 processing in affective decision contexts: fMRI and Behavioral Evidence. The Accounting Review 89 (6): 1979–2010.

Farrell, A. M., Goh, J. O. S., and White, B. J. (2018). Financial Incentives Differentially Regulate Neural Processing of Positive and Negative Emotions During Value-Based Decision-Making. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 12: 58.

Hartmann, F. G. H. (2018). Replication of published studies in Behavioural Accounting Research. In: The Routledge Companion to Behavioural Accounting Research (eds. Libby and Thorne). New York: Routledge.

Hartmann, F. G. H., and Maas, V. S. (2010). Why business unit controllers create budget slack: involvement in management, social pressure, and Machiavellianism. Behavioral Research in Accounting 22 (2): 27–49.

Indjejikian, R. J., and Matejka, M. (2009). CFO fiduciary responsibilities and annual bonus incentives. Journal of Accounting Research 47 (4): 1061–1093.

Institute of Management Accountants (IMA). (2011). IMA statement of ethical professional practice. Montvale, NJ.

Jia, Y., van Lent, L., and Zeng, Y. (2014). Masculinity, testosterone, and financial misreporting. Journal of Accounting Research 52 (5): 1195–1246.

Ličen, M., Hartmann, F., Repovš, G., & Slapničar, S. (2016). The impact of social pressure and monetary incentive on cognitive control. Frontiers in psychology, 7, 93.

Rotaru, K, Schulz, A.K.D, and Fehrenbacher, D.D., (2018) New technologies for behavioural accounting experiments. In: The Routledge Companion to Behavioural Accounting Research (eds. Libby and Thorne). New York: Routledge.

Tops, M., Quirin, M., Boksem, M. A., & Koole, S. L. (2017). Large-scale neural networks and the lateralization of motivation and emotion. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 119, 41-49.

Tops, M., Boksem, M. A., Quirin, M., IJzerman, H., & Koole, S. L. (2014). Internally directed cognition and mindfulness: An integrative perspective derived from predictive and reactive control systems theory. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 429.