Effects of superiors’ compensation structures on psychophysiological responses and real earnings management decisions of subordinate managers

Alisa G. Brink, Andrea Gouldman, Jacob M. Rose, Kristian Rotaru

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


This study examines the effects of executive compensation structures and research and development (R&D) reporting methods on subordinate managers’ psychophysiological responses and decisions to engage in real earnings management. Results from one 2 × 2 between-participants experiment indicate that when R&D expenditures are capitalized, relative to expensed, managers are less willing to abandon a failing project in favor of a superior project. Importantly, executive compensation structures can effectively reduce this form of real earnings management by subordinates. When executives are paid with restricted stock, relative to when executives are compensated with unrestricted stock, their subordinate managers are less willing to continue a failing R&D project when R&D expenses are capitalized. A second experiment that employs pupillometry, eye tracking and facial analysis in order to capture participants’ psychophysiological responses to incentive structures reveals that subordinates exhibit increased arousal and more intense negative emotions when they encounter supervisor pay structures that conflict with their personal incentives. Increases in negative emotion lead to reductions in earnings management behavior. The results indicate that compensation structures for superiors, such as executives, can significantly mitigate subordinate managers’ tendency to engage in real earnings management. In addition, from a methodological perspective, the second experiment indicates that hypothetical incentives are internalized by experiment participants, and hypothetical incentives lead to predictable psychophysiological responses and related decisions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100691
Number of pages13
JournalManagement Accounting Research
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2020


  • Emotion
  • Executive compensation
  • Eye tracking
  • Facial expression
  • Incentives
  • Pupillometry
  • Real earnings management

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