Recent empirical studies support self-interest as the sole basis for economic decisions (as predicted by agency theory). However, cognitive moral development (CMD) theory suggests that decision makers will allow ethical/moral considerations to constrain their economic behaviour. The purpose of this study is to resolve the essential conflict between the tenets of agency theory and CMD theory. The results of a laboratory experiment suggest that both moral reasoning level and adverse-selection conditions (self-interest) can have a significant effect on managers’ project evaluation decisions. Specifically, managers are likely to continue a project that is expected to be unprofitable only when adverse selection conditions are present and moral reasoning level is low. Thus, agency theory may not be generalizable to accounting-based economic performance.

Publication Date



1999 article from Accounting, Organizations and Society. Please see www.sciencedirect.com for the complete article. Note: imported from RIT’s Digital Media Library running on DSpace to RIT Scholar Works in February 2014.

Document Type


Department, Program, or Center

Accounting (SCB)


RIT – Main Campus