This dissertation consists of two studies on System Justification Theory, hereafter SJT. SJT (Jost and Banaji 1994) is a psychology theory stating that individuals justify the status quo even if doing so is against their own or their group's interest (Jost et al. 2004). Comprised of twenty propositions, SJT attempts to explain social and psychological factors driving individuals to perceive the social system as legitimate. These factors also drive individuals to support and maintain the social system. The synthesis and application of this psychological theory in behavioral accounting research is limited, but could provide explanatory evidence on individual decision-making in accounting. The first study of this dissertation synthesizes SJT's four foundational theories – cognitive dissonance, social identity, social dominance, and belief in a just world – in behavioral accounting research, specifically focusing on two predominantly used theoretical motivations, cognitive dissonance and social identity theory. Behavioral accounting and corporate social responsibility (CSR) have increasingly become more complex as interest in these two areas continues to grow. The first study reviews prior behavioral accounting research that applied cognitive dissonance or social identity theory, and then demonstrates how the application of SJT in behavioral accounting research addresses more complex research questions that cannot be addressed solely from one or a combination of SJT's four foundational theories. The second study then applies SJT's theoretical motivations in a complex managerial accounting setting by investigating whether maintaining the status quo is a factor explaining managers' decisions to overstate environmental capital expenditure (ECE) projections. This study uses an experimental design to understand whether the presence of an overstatement status quo and a system threat affects managers' decisions to overstate environmental projections. The results indicate that managers are more likely to overstate ECE projections when the industry exhibits an overstatement status quo. Additionally, this propensity to overstate ECE projections is further exacerbated when managers face a stakeholder threat, suggesting they "dig in their heels" and maintain the status quo. This study extends environmental accounting research by demonstrating that the societal status quo affects managers cognitively and psychologically as they make environmental disclosure decisions. Results also contribute to practice by shedding insight as to why managers make certain environmental disclosure decisions. Specifically, the results show that the social system impacts managers' willingness to use environmental disclosures as a legitimating tool. Overall these two studies contribute to behavioral accounting research by exploring and applying a psychological theory in a managerial environmental accounting setting. It demonstrates how a commonly used psychology theory that has never been utilized in accounting research could address broad and complex accounting topics.
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Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
College of Business Administration
Business Administration; Accounting Track
Length of Campus-only Access
Doctoral Dissertation (Campus-only Access)
Olczak, Wioleta, "System Justification Theory: Synthesizing and Applying its Theoretical Motivations in Behavioral Accounting Research" (2019). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 6549.