An Eye for Accounting : Studies investigating judgmental effects of visual cues in accounting communication

Abstract: This dissertation investigates judgmental effects of visual cues in accounting communication. The dissertation comprises a comprehensive summary and four empirical studies. My overall objective is to highlight the relevance of the visual to both accounting theory and practice by empirically demonstrating that, in corporate reports, visual elements juxtaposed with accounting information can significantly influence report readers’ evaluative judgments regarding corporate performance. My research aims to bring theoretical work on framing and the power of the visual into the accounting domain, focusing predominantly on the emotive power of visual imagery and color. Using experiments and complementary methods such as interviews and eye-tracking, the empirical studies demonstrate that these supplementary visual elements, despite not conveying any additional facts, can indeed influence report readers’ evaluative judgments regarding various aspects of communicated corporate performance. In line with psychology-based theoretical propositions that frames can promote different interpretations, the combined results suggest that the presentation format of accounting information does matter for evaluative judgments of corporate performance, and that information-redundant but affect-laden visual cues in accounting discourse can systematically affect stakeholder understanding. A central line of argument in this dissertation is that in an increasingly visual society, it is essential to gain a more nuanced understanding of the psychological effects of visual graphics in accounting discourse if we are to advance our understanding of accounting-related judgment and decision making. The potential judgmental effects of visuals in accounting communication has so far received little attention in accounting research or from regulators, and the display of visuals is currently not considered by general guidelines regarding corporate reporting. My overall motivation for this research is to address this incompleteness in extant accounting research and practice.