Norms, Conformity, and Controls

54 Pages Posted: 11 Sep 2007 Last revised: 3 Dec 2010

See all articles by William B. Tayler

William B. Tayler

Brigham Young University

Robert J. Bloomfield

Cornell University - Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management

Date Written: November 1, 2010


Research in behavioral economics suggests that in addition to their traditional incentive effects, formal control systems can influence psychological motivations. We extend this literature by demonstrating experimentally that formal controls directly influence people’s sense of what behaviors are appropriate in the setting (personal norms), and indirectly alter people’s tendency to conform to the behavior of those around them (descriptive norms). These effects persist even after the controls are changed, so that the effects of current controls can be strongly influenced by past control strength. Our results support those who are incorporating psychological factors into principal-agent models (such as Fischer and Huddart [2008]), and suggest that those models should be further modified to incorporate correlations between personal norms and conformity to descriptive norms.

Keywords: controls, conformity, social norms, crowding out, public goods

JEL Classification: C70, C72, H26, H41, M40

Suggested Citation

Tayler, William B. and Bloomfield, Robert J., Norms, Conformity, and Controls (November 1, 2010). AAA 2011 Management Accounting Section (MAS) Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN: or

William B. Tayler (Contact Author)

Brigham Young University ( email )

Brigham Young University
519 TNRB
Provo, UT 84602
United States
(801) 422-5972 (Phone)
(801) 422-0621 (Fax)

Robert J. Bloomfield

Cornell University - Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management ( email )

450 Sage Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853
United States
607-255-9407 (Phone)
607-254-4590 (Fax)

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