The Effect of Incentive Framing and Descriptive Norms on Internal Whistleblowing

Clara Xiaoling Chen, Jennifer E. Nichol, Flora H. Zhou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Firms are under increasing pressure to implement effective internal whistleblowing systems. While firms can provide incentives to encourage internal whistleblowing, it remains controversial how such incentives should be structured. We examine whether the effectiveness of incentives encouraging internal whistleblowing is a joint function of the framing of such incentives (reward or penalty) and the strength of descriptive norms supporting internal whistleblowing. We predict and find in a lab experiment that penalties lead to a greater increase in internal whistleblowing (compared to rewards) when descriptive norms supporting whistleblowing are stronger. Our study contributes to the previous accounting literature on dishonesty and the role of management control systems design in promoting honesty and ethical norms in organizations. We also contribute to an emerging accounting literature on the links between controls, norms, and individual behavior by distinguishing between descriptive norms and injunctive norms and by highlighting the interplay between these two types of norms. Our results have important implications for organizations considering adopting incentives to encourage internal whistleblowing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1757-1778
Number of pages22
JournalContemporary Accounting Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Accounting
  • Finance
  • Economics and Econometrics


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