• Activity-based costing;
  • Data fixation

An important debate in the contemporary accounting literature relates to the relative merits of activity-based versus volume-based product costing methodologies. Traditional volume-based costing systems are said to be flawed and may seriously mislead strategic decision making. Such arguments assume that decision makers use such information in an unproblematic way. This article reports on an experiment designed to investigate whether decision makers are able to overcome data fixation in a setting involving the use of product cost information. In response to criticisms of previous accounting studies of data fixation, subjects received some feedback after each decision, and were rewarded based on performance. The experiment involved subjects making a series of production output decisions based on detailed case information of a hypothetical firm facing different market conditions for each decision. A between-subjects design was utilized with two cost system treatments: activity-based costing (ABC) and traditional costing (TC). It was hypothesized that the group provided with ABC cost data would make ‘optimal’ decisions and the group provided with TC cost data would overcome fixation. The results of the experiment indicated that there was, in general, evidence of data fixation among TC subjects, but a small number of subjects did adjust to ABC costs. These results are discussed in the light of previous research and some future directions are outlined.