Ethical issues in accounting and economics experimental research: Inducing strategic misrepresentation

Ethics and Behavior 19 (1):51 – 59 (2009)
Numerous accounting and economics research studies employ an experimental research method requiring student participants to make representations about an individual characteristic (e.g., ability, cost) that provides a basis for payment of cash rewards. In response, many participants intentionally misrepresent the nature of that characteristic to receive a greater reward. Typically, such studies are deemed to be either exempt from review by institutional review boards (IRBs) or subject only to an expedited review. Moreover, investigators seldom debrief participants, purportedly to avoid contamination of the participant pool. The authors question the ethics of inducing strategic misrepresentation and rewarding fraudulent behavior without appropriate debriefing. A theoretical framework of cognitive ethical development indicates that such research methods can be harmful to student participants. Furthermore, principles of operant conditioning suggest that the rewards reinforce fraudulent behavior. It is recommended that research studies inducing strategic misrepresentation should not be exempt from IRB review and should be required to include desensitization procedures for debriefing participants.
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