Objective environmental conditions and perceived environmental uncertainty: Cognitive models as explanation for a perceptual gap

Martin Weiss (Department of Management, University of Erlangen-Nürnberg, Nuremberg, Germany)
Christina Wittmann (Department of Management, University of Erlangen-Nürnberg, Nuremberg, Germany)

Journal of Accounting & Organizational Change

ISSN: 1832-5912

Publication date: 5 March 2018



It appears as if a gap exists between objective environmental conditions and the respective managerial perception of those conditions. This situation poses severe problems for executives deriving effective strategies and initiating successful organizational change. Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to develop and provide a deeper understanding of the factors that lead to such a gap.


On the basis of the literature from psychology and strategic management, this paper develops a conceptual framework of the cognitive model with the perception process and potentially moderating factors. Furthermore, more precise mechanisms and relationships within the perception of environmental conditions are proposed.


The perception process consists of three stages, attention, encoding and storage/retrieval, which all may explain variations in how individuals interpret the environment. Moreover, dispositional factors (such as cognitive styles, cognitive structures, intelligence and motivation) as well as situational factors (such as emotion and stress) further cause variations between and within individuals, which ultimately leads to a gap between objective and perceived environmental conditions.


This study not only highlights the existence and the severe consequence of a misperception of environmental conditions, but also offers a variety of factors that could lead to this undesirable effect. Furthermore, while previous research has typically focused on single factors that might influence the perception process, this study assumes a holistic view on the cognitive model and provides more detailed and specific mechanisms on a perceptual gap.



We wish to thank participants from the 2015 European Academy of Management (EURAM) conference and the “Cognition in the rough” (CIR) paper development workshops at the 2015 and 2016 annual meetings of the Academy of Management for helpful comments on earlier versions of this paper.


Weiss, M. and Wittmann, C. (2018), "Objective environmental conditions and perceived environmental uncertainty: Cognitive models as explanation for a perceptual gap", Journal of Accounting & Organizational Change, Vol. 14 No. 1, pp. 33-60. https://doi.org/10.1108/JAOC-11-2016-0079

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