• Risk abatement;
  • family firms;
  • R&D investment;
  • behavioral agency theory

The behavioral agency model suggests family firms invest less in R&D than nonfamily firms to protect their socioemotional wealth. Studies support this contention but do not explain how family firms make R&D investments. We hypothesize that when performance exceeds aspirations, family firms manage socioemotional and economic objectives by making exploitative R&D investments that lead to more reliable and less risky sales levels. However, performance below aspirations leads to exploratory R&D investments that result in potentially higher but less reliable sales levels. Using a risk abatement model, our analyses of 847 firms over 10 years supports our hypotheses. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.