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    Measuring Reflective Cognitive Capacity: A Methodological...
    research summary posted July 20, 2015 by Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips, tagged 09.0 Auditor Judgment, 09.10 Prior Dispositions/Biases/Auditor state of mind 
    Measuring Reflective Cognitive Capacity: A Methodological Recommendation for Accounting Research of Feedback Effects.
    Practical Implications:

    The primary finding from the study is that average effects can mask real differences in participants’ cognitive capacity. Thus, the fundamental issue is not whether reflective cognitive capacity is malleable. Rather, the issue is this: can participants whose thinking dispositions predispose them to avoid being reflectiveto avoid reevaluating their initial responses and subsequently consider alternative theories (rules)enhance their ability to engage in reflective thinking? Future accounting behavioral research, especially studies that provide participants with feedback and an opportunity to learn, should include measures of reflective cognitive capacity (either the Need for Cognition scale or the Cognitive Reflection Test) in order to improve explained variance and more rigorously test techniques used to train accounting professionals. 


    Viator, R. E., Bagley, P. L., Barnes, B. G., & Harp, N. L. 2014. Measuring Reflective Cognitive Capacity: A Methodological Recommendation for Accounting Research of Feedback Effects. Behavioral Research In Accounting 26 (2): 131-160.

    cognitive bias, cognitive reflection test, cognitive theory, feedback, reflective thinking
    Purpose of the Study:

    This study investigates whether measures of reflective cognitive capacity can differentiate which participants are more or less likely to benefit from feedback intervention. This is important because if participants systematically differ in their ability to reflect, and accounting researchers omit controlling for such variation, then accounting academe’s recommendations regarding the effectiveness of various feedback intervention techniques are likely to be overstated. In other words, such recommendations might not be applicable to those accounting professionals who are less inclined to engage in reflective thinking. This potential methodological issue relates to studies in managerial accounting settings and financial information processing, as well as audit judgments.

    Design/Method/ Approach:

    This study provides results from four separate experiments of feedback effects. These studies were conducted across a two-year period, utilizing four separate accounting participant pools, all enrolled in a Master’s of Science in Accounting program, employing different feedback mechanisms, and examining different measures of performance. In each of the four studies, reflective cognitive capacity is measured using the Need for Cognition scale; in the latter two studies, the Cognitive Reflection Test, recently reported in the behavioral economics literature is used. The evidence was gathered prior to April 2014.


    Across all four experiments, the results consistently document that variations in participants' reflective cognitive capacity explain differences in post-feedback performance. Based on four different experiments, conducted across a two-year period, the results provide strong evidence that the NFC and CRT measures could reasonably partition participants into two groups: those that are more likely, versus those that are less likely, to benefit from feedback intervention. The incremental benefit derived from controlling for differences in reflective cognitive capacity certainly exceeds the incremental cost. Based on an analysis of adjusted means, participants with relatively high reflective cognitive capacity improved their performance after receiving summary outcome feedback, whereas participants with relatively low reflective cognitive capacity did not improve.

    Auditor Judgment
    Prior Dispositions/Biases/Auditor state of mind