Impaired Judgment: The Effects of Asset Impairment Reversibility and Cognitive Dissonance on Future Investment
Posted: 9 Jul 2014 Last revised: 14 May 2015
Date Written: March 1, 2015
This paper examines how the reversibility of the accounting effect of asset impairments affects managers’ investment decisions. We conduct two experiments in which participants act as CEO of a multi-division electronics company that suffers a large asset impairment at one of the divisions. Drawing on prior psychology research involving cognitive dissonance and decision reversibility, we predict and find that managers who are responsible for the decision to record the asset impairment invest more in the impaired division when the accounting effect of the impairment is reversible than when it is irreversible. This is consistent with the idea that reversible accounting effects encourage behavioral attempts to alter the cash flow outcome, while irreversible accounting effects encourage belief revision to rationalize the cash flow outcome. Also in line with cognitive dissonance theory, we show that managers who are not responsible for the decision to impair the asset, or managers who are given the opportunity to deny responsibility for the asset impairment, do not differ in their investment in the impaired division, regardless of impairment reversibility.
Keywords: impairment, reversal, investment, decision making, cognitive dissonance
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