The effect of cognitive reflection on the efficacy of impression management

Ricardo Lopes Cardoso (Escola Brasileira de Administração Pública e de Empresas, Fundação Getulio Vargas, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)
Rodrigo de Oliveira Leite (Faculdade de Administração e Finanças, Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) (Escola Brasileira de Administração Pública e de Empresas, Fundação Getulio Vargas, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)
André Carlos Busanelli de Aquino (Faculdade de Economia, Administração e Contabilidade de Ribeirão Preto, Universidade de Sao Paulo Campus de Ribeirao Preto, Ribeirao Preto, Brazil)

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

ISSN: 0951-3574

Publication date: 20 August 2018



The purpose of this paper is to investigate whether analysts’ personal cognitive traits mitigate the efficacy of graphical impression management.


Three experiments are conducted wherein 525 professional accountants working as financial analysts rate a hypothetical company’s performance graph depicting its net income trend. The manipulation is the presence (absence) of impression management techniques. Hypotheses test whether different techniques are effective and whether analysts’ cognitive reflection ability mitigates manipulation efficacy.


Presentation enhancement is effective only with impulsive analysts, showing the weakness of this technique through the use of colors. Measurement distortion and selectivity techniques are effective for reflective and impulsive analysts; however, reflective analysts are more critical about graphs prepared via selectivity that emphasize profit recovery following crises.

Research limitations/implications

Each impression management technique is investigated in isolation and in controlled conditions. Further research could consider how personal cognitive traits impact the efficacy of combined techniques and whether imbedding manipulated graphs with other information mitigates impression management efficacy.

Practical implications

Research on impression management is mostly “task-oriented;” few “people-oriented” studies focus on decision making by those using financial reports. Users’ cognitive reflection ability is shown to undermine the efficacy of some impression management techniques.

Social implications

Financial analysts, auditors and regulators could develop mechanisms to avoid pervasive usage of (or enhance skepticism regarding) techniques not mitigated by users’ reflectiveness.


Evidence from financial analysts with an accounting background provides insights on individual characteristics’ influence on graphical impression management efficacy.



Ricardo Lopes Cardoso, Rodrigo de Oliveira Leite and André Carlos Busanelli de Aquino (2018) "The effect of cognitive reflection on the efficacy of impression management", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 31 No. 6, pp. 1668-1690

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