Academic journal article Global Perspectives on Accounting Education

Effect of Cognitive Style on Performance in Introductory Financial Accounting and the Decision to Major in Accounting

Academic journal article Global Perspectives on Accounting Education

Effect of Cognitive Style on Performance in Introductory Financial Accounting and the Decision to Major in Accounting

Article excerpt


This paper investigates the effect of cognitive style upon subsequent performance in an introductory financial accounting at university and the decision to major in accounting. In assessing these outcomes, the study controls for students' grade point averages, whether they took accounting in high school, and the possibility of an instructor effect. The results indicate that cognitive style affected the final decision to major in accounting but did not affect the initial decision to major in accounting or performance in introductory financial accounting. Of the control variables, high school accounting positively affects performance, and while it also affects the initial intention to major in accounting, it does not affect the final decision to major in accounting. Other results indicate that students with higher grade point averages perform better and initially choose to major in accounting.

Key words: Decision making, accounting major, cognitive style, field dependence, introductory financial accounting, and examination performance

Data availability: The data are available upon request from the second author.


Accounting academics over the world are interested in factors affecting student performance in introductory financial accounting and why students do or do not select accounting as their major. A related issue concerns the retention of students once they select accounting; factors that motivate students to remain or change to a different major should interest educators, since this decision has significant resource implications. A better understanding of factors which impact student performance and their interest in the accounting profession is critical to both the academy and the profession if we are to attract the best students in large numbers into accounting.

Of the many possible factors that could be involved in a student choosing to major in accounting - motivational, parental, prior educational background, for example - cognitive style is examined here. Cognitive style, which can be viewed as " an individual preferred and habitual approach to organizing and representing information" (Chen and Macreadie, 2002. p. 3), has been used for more than 25 years by researchers to investigate how individuals process information and make choices in learning. Cognitive style, like reasoning ability, has been extensively studied over many disciplines (e.g. Davis, 1991), and recent studies have looked at the role it plays in individuals' choice of vocation (Hicks et al., 2007). The research questions we hope to answer are: whether or not cognitive style can be used to explain which students select accounting; how they perform in accounting exams; and which ones decide to remain (or not) in accounting until they graduate. Both Chen and Macreadie's (2002) definition and Zelniker's (1989) definition - the preferred approach to problem solving that characterizes an individual's typical behavioral tendencies across a variety of situations and content domains - suggest that a useful factor in predicting both of these outcomes (performance in the introductory accounting class and the selection of accounting as the major) might be the students' cognitive style.

A global decline in the number of students who major in accounting - observed in the US (Albrecht and Sack, 2000); the United Kingdom (Marriott and Marriott, 2003); Ireland (Byrne and Willis, 2005); and Japan (Sugahara et al., 2006) - may be turning around for some universities, possibly due to students' perception of better job prospects given the current recessionary environment. Identifying factors that explain which students perform better and are attracted to the discipline of accounting in the first place is of world-wide interest. The current study adds to the literature by examining the impact of cognitive style on performance and choice of major while simultaneously controlling for the effects of prior exposure to accounting (high school), students' grade point average, and instructor. …

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