Research proposals - 36th cycle

Within the PhD Programme in “Economics and Management”, particular emphasis will be given to research proposals on the following subjects:

Does scarcity matter in consumer decision making?

Proponents: Lucia Savadori and Luigi Mittone

Description: A natural tendency for human beings is to evaluate consumer products in context. One of the context factors used in judgment and decision-making is the relative scarcity or abundance of the type of good. Some studies have supported the idea that scarce goods, such as limited editions or rare products, are preferred over abundant good, not because they carry more utility in itself but because they are scarce (Diesendruck, Chiang, Ferera, & Benozio, 2019; Mittone & Savadori, 2009; Van Herpen, Pieters, & Zeelenberg, 2014; Verhallen, 1982; Verhallen & Robben, 1994). However, researches have proposed no strong justification for this effect and no definitive converging results have been found for this effect since much of the mechanisms behind this tendency still are unrevealed. Most of all, the boundaries (when the scarcity bias counts in decisions and when it doesn’t) have still to be discovered.


Diesendruck, G., Chiang, W. C., Ferera, M., & Benozio, A. (2019). Cultural differences in the development of a preference for scarce objects. Developmental Psychology. Mittone, L., & Savadori, L. (2009). The scarcity bias. Applied Psychology, 58(3), 453–468. Van Herpen, E., Pieters, R., & Zeelenberg, M. (2014). When less sells more or less: The scarcity principle in wine choice. Food Quality and Preference. Verhallen, T. M. M. (1982). Scarcity and consumer choice behavior. Journal of Economic Psychology. Verhallen, T. M. M., & Robben, H. S. J. (1994). Scarcity and preference: An experiment on unavailability and product evaluation. Journal of Economic Psychology.

Effects of temporal frames on decisions under risk

Proponents: Lucia Savadori and Luigi Mittone

Description: Deciding now for something that will happen in our future is a complex human activity because it requires significant cognitive resources and planning skills. However, these types of choices are also the most important ones for our well-being. Choices on the climate, on savings, on investments, on insurance, on health and in general all the choices of resources allocation that are taken today but are resolved in a distant time, are very important and there is little or no possibility of intervening and correcting things along the way. When risk is involved in the choice, things are even more complex. Some studies have shown that in the choice for the future there is an underweighting of risk (i.e., probability) more than an overweighting of the stakes (Abdellaoui, Diecidue, & Öncüler, 2011; Savadori & Mittone, 2015; Wu, 1999; Yi, de la Piedad, & Bickel, 2006). However, the cognitive and affective mechanisms that underlie this under-weighting have not yet been fully explored.


Abdellaoui, M., Diecidue, E., & Öncüler, A. (2011). Risk Preferences at Different Time Periods: An Experimental Investigation. Management Science. Savadori, L., & Mittone, L. (2015). Temporal distance reduces the attractiveness of p-bets compared to $-bets. Journal of Economic Psychology, 46, 26–38. Wu, G. (1999). Temporal Risk and Probability Weights?: A Descriptive Model of Delayed Resolution of Uncertainty by, 159–198. Yi, R., de la Piedad, X. X., & Bickel, W. K. (2006). The combined effects of delay and probability in discounting. BEHAVIOURAL PROCESSES, 73(2), 149–155.


Financial Networks: estimation and reconstruction approaches to prevent systemic crises

Proponents: Lucio Gobbi, Sandra Paterlini, Roberto Tamborini

After the recent crises, there is an increasing awareness of practitioners, regulators and academics that the "too big to fail" and the level of interconnectedness of financial institutions can pose dramatic threats to the entire economic system, with potential dramatic consequences on society. Therefore, numerous studies now focus on trying to capture the complexity of the system by using network analysis approaches, which allow to model multi-lateral relationships between institutions with different degrees of intensity, providing often a quite realistic, but sometimes hard to interpret, picture of the real-world status quo. Network analysis provides essential tools to analyse risk in financial institutions, both to the individual institution and to the system as a whole. By observing the degrees of interconnectedness, contagion and spillover effects of banks, firms and the entire economic systems and by looking at a financial network structure in its complexity, policy makers can see the critical points during stress periods and set-up adequate and viable solutions, both in preparing for or in repairing the effects of a crisis. Still, access to data on the full status quo network is often limited, despite marginal distribution are increasingly available. Network reconstruction tools can then allow not only to estimate networks but more importantly help to detect factors that drive crises, their implications and ideally develop early warning measures to avoid potential catastrophic effects. Further, developing these factors should lead to a better understanding of behavioral models, which drive network connections, and also lead to counter factual analysis, to guide effective policy. In this project, starting from the data and from a simple economic model based on fixed cost, we aim to analyze how the actual network evolves in time with respect to alternative optimal network configurations and which are the socially optimal network structures. These optimal networks will be derived using different indicators, such as loan diversification, riskiness, interconnectedness, and liquidity and information contagion. Moreover, by studying the evolution in time of the network architecture with respect to optimal reference models, we plan to build early-warning indicators that forecast future crises and avoid critical situations for the system as a whole. To detect robust signals we will combine methods from network analysis with regularization approaches to handle noisy and high dimensional data. These empirical approaches are designed to compute and detect relevant interactions with respect to very large and heterogeneous data sets, involving a large number of unknown parameters. Our research aims to have an impact on helping regulators and politicians setting up new rules in order to better control the interconnectedness of the financial system. Ideally the research promotes an understanding of the type of connectivity that is useful for risk diversification and sharing. At the same time the researcher should advocate the level of complexity that should instead be avoided to prevent future financial crises and to minimize their costs on society. Moreover, the analysis of different network configurations, determined as optimal structures, by considering different economic and financial aspects, such as diversification or tail-risk, should allow shedding lights on the interaction of such crucial factors. This in turn determines factors which play a key role in increasing systemic risk and should therefore be better monitored (or even regulated) to prevent future crises and avoid their burden on society. We believe that our research will be of interests also for investors and financial institutions by pointing out the systems’ weaknesses and hopefully helping to strengthen the best practices in risk management, as well as to provide new tools to capture connectivity and dependence within, and between institutions.


Micro spatial analysis of firm demography

Proponents: Diego Giuliani and Giuseppe Espa

The potential offered by the increasing availability of micro-geographic data is tremendous and still largely not exploited. An interesting and promising research project may concern the development of a new methodology to study the spatial dynamics of firm demography making use of such rich source of information. Exploiting the techniques of stochastic spatial point processes (Diggle, 2014), it is indeed possible to model jointly firm entry, growth and exit according to the behavior of the individual economic agent.

References: Diggle PJ (2014) Statistical Methods for Spatial and Spatio-Temporal Point Processes, 3rd Edition. Taylor & Francis, Boca Raton.


Modern Surplus Approach. Rethinking Economics: money, credit, time, distribution and productivity

Proponent: Stefano Zambelli

Further details on this proposal are available at the link below.

Non - financial disclosure, integrated thinking and sustainable development goals (SDGs)

Proponents: Michele Andreaus, Ericka Costa and Caterina Pesci

In the accounting literature, there is a recent debate concerning the non-financial disclosure and its development within the Integrated Thinking and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs, hereafter) framework. In more detail, within the broad social and environmental accounting and reporting (SEAR) literature there is room for investigating how different frameworks (such as and SDGs) can affect the debate within the mandatory and voluntary non-financial disclosure and which is the role of and SGD-related accounting research to accounting for sustainability. In the last decades, many organizations disclosed non-financial information (human rights, gender issues, workers safety policies, environmental impact, trainings etc.) on a voluntary basis but other organizations have recently been obliged by the European Directive 2014/95/EU (which amends the Directive 2013/34/EU). This directive applies to large undertakings, public interest entities (PIEs) and organizations with more than 500 employees (CSR Europe and GRI, 2017). This European law requires from organizations to report on a mandatory basis, their impacts in the following areas: (a) environmental (b) social and employee (c) respect for human rights and (d) anti-corruption and bribery matters. To provide such reporting, undertakings are free to choose the framework of disclosure (such as GRI - Global Reporting Initiative, IR Integrated Reporting or the most recent SDGs). In this direction, EU has issued non-binding guidelines (EC, 2016) to assist undertakings disclose non-financial and diversity information. Therefore, within the broad debate about mandatory and voluntary non-financial disclosure (Szabo & Sorensen, 2015; Quinn & Connolly, 2017; Matuszak and Rozanska, 2017; Deegan, 2002; Crawford and Williams, 2010; Ioannou and Sarafeim, 2017) it is urgent to investigate how different frameworks can co-exist in order to enhance transparency, relevance, consistency and comparability (EU, 2014) via reporting. Within the existing international frameworks, two of them have attracted much attention from the social and environmental scholars in the last years. The first one is the Integrated Reporting framework, which is aimed at creating a globally accepted reporting framework, which integrates financial, environmental, social and governance information in a clear, concise, consistent and comparable format (Thomson, 2015). The shift from a single (financial) to a multiple (financial, manufactured, intellectual, human, social and relationship, and natural) capitals with a future rather than a historic orientation is consistent with research that challenged the value (and values) of conventional annual reporting. “Integrated Reporting demonstrates the linkages between an organization’s strategy, governance and financial performance and the social, environmental and economic context within which it operates. By reinforcing these connections, Integrated Reporting can help business to take more sustainable decisions and enable investors and other stakeholders to understand how an organization is really performing” ( Despite developments in corporate social, environmental and ethical accounting there is very little evidence that these initiatives have substantively reduced the negative social and environmental impacts of corporations and other social institutions (Gray, 2002, 2010). Therefore, it is important to ask how Integrated Reporting differs from these previous developments and whether IIRC have learned how to avoid the pitfalls experienced by standard setters, professional institutes, practitioners and reported on by researchers. The second one has been promoted by the United Nation (UN) which defined the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (UN, 2015) by adopting 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that are intended to “stimulate action over the next 15 years in areas of critical importance for humanity and the planet” (p. 3). The SDGs framework has been provided in order to globally foster the sustainable development. Accounting professions and accounting scholars have enthusiastically embraced the SDGs framework with the purpose to promote and supporting the realization of the SD goals (Bebbington and Unerman, 2018). In the academic world, SDG-related research has begun to emerge in several disciplines, including business and management (Annan-Diab and Molinari, 2017; Schaltegger et al., 2017; Storey et al., 2017). Some of this research identifies and develops the energizing effects of committing to an SDG framework in guiding organizational policy and action. However, the SDGs and their potential and saliency have only just started to make an appearance in the accounting literature (see Bebbington et al., 2017). Therefore, within the accounting discipline there is an urgent need to raise awareness of the SDGs framework among accounting academics to help in the initiation, scoping and development of high-quality research projects in this area. In this way, accounting scholars could play a substantive role in helping embed policy and action at an organizational level in a way that contributes toward achievement of the SDGs.

PMS and social impact measurement in hybrid organizations

Proponent: Ericka Costa

The nonprofit sector has grown rapidly in many developed countries over the last decade, playing a central role in providing public services (Grossi et al., 2017, Haigh et al., 2015). Within this sector, there has been emerging growth in so-called “hybrid organisations”, organisations seeking to achieve social missions through the use of market mechanisms (Ebrahim et al., 2014; Mair and Marti, 2006; Costa and Pesci, 2016). In essence, they are able to combine an orientation towards social values and a desire to gain profits (as a means to an end; Dees, 1998). Despite growth in the number of hybrid organisations and their increasing academic recognition, there remains much to be understood in terms of their institutional mechanisms, governance rules and accountability functioning (Ebrahim et al., 2014; Grossi et al., 2017; Costa and Pesci, 2016; Costa et al., 2014). Indeed, traditional accounting theories focus on the investor-owned enterprise perspective according to which organisations pursue the production of goods and services in order to maximise economic value for shareholders (Palmer and Vinten, 1998); such a perspective encounters limitations when dealing with hybrid organisations (Hofmann and McSwain, 2013). Two primary shortcomings exist: first, the bottom line for hybrid organisations is not based on the maximisation of shareholders’ economic value for shareholders; rather, it is more broad and complex because it encompasses the creation of “social value” for the community as a whole; second, hybrid organisations are characterised by a different stakeholder profile because their governance structure includes multiple stakeholders, and their activities benefit a broad range of stakeholders. It thus becomes difficult to obtain a meaningful picture of social enterprise performance compared to pure public or private entities (Grossi et al., 2017). Focusing only on economic and financial indicators fails to offer a comprehensive evaluation of nonprofit organisational performance. For-profit organisations summarise their economic and financial performances in financial statements because shareholders consider profit to be the company’s mission; in contrast, hybrid organisations recognise no direct correlation between increments of achievement in the organisation’s mission and its financial performance (Moore, 2000). To reflect the dual nature of hybrid organisations with both financial and social value, these organisations have begun to experiment with certain accounting practices measuring not only economic performance but also social results (Bagnoli and Megali, 2011; Manetti, 2014; Nicholls, 2009). Difficulties aligning these measurement systems sometimes arise because these two types of value creation are intrinsically connected rather than in direct opposition in a zero sum equation (Emerson, 2003). This difference has created a need for a more complex, multi-directional and multi-stakeholder performance measurement system (PMS, hereafter) (Grossi et al., 2017; Christensen and Ebrahim, 2006; Najam, 1996). In defining the hybrid organisations’ PMS, managers have no common or standardised approach because they conduct multiple and diverse activities for which there are few common benchmarks or standards. What should a PMS for a social enterprise look like? As Costa and Pesci (2016) outline, a universal reply to this question does not exist. Social enterprises differ in size, degree of formality, form, sector, geographic scope, rationale for operation, stakeholders and other circumstances; therefore, it is difficult to normatively support a standardised and universal metric for measuring social enterprise performance (see also Palmer and Vinten, 1998). Recently the debate on PMS and social enterprise accountability has been propelled by the “theory-driven evaluation” method (Rogers, 2007), according to which organisations observe how different programmes and initiatives cause intended or observed outcomes and impacts (Ebrahim and Rangan, 2010; Epstein and McFarlan, 2011; Ebrahim et al., 2014). This method follows the impact value chain (Clark et al., 2004), which is a “logic chain of results” in which organisational inputs (e.g., money, staff time, capital assets) are used to support activities and services (e.g., health services, schooling, job training, etc.). These activities ultimately result in the delivery of outputs to a target beneficiary population (i.e., results that a social enterprise and a nonprofit organisation can measure or assess directly). The identified output can lead to different effects and changes in beneficiaries’ attitudes, behaviours, knowledge, skills, and/or status, i.e., the outcome of the social enterprise’s activity. Short-term benefits and changes then can foster a societal impact on the broader society in the long term (Ebrahim and Rangan, 2010; Epstein and McFarlan, 2011; Clark et al., 2004; Ebrahim et al., 2014; Costa and Pesci, 2016). Many scholars have contributed to the theoretical domain of the impact value chain by highlighting that within hybrid organizations’ complex PMS, no universal measures can be defined without engaging different stakeholders(Costa and Pesci, 2016; Ebrahim and Rangan, 2014; Ebrahim et al., 2014; Mair and Marti, 2006). However, there is a need for more empirical exploration in this direction (Grossi et al., 2017; Haigh et al., 2015; Ebrahim et al., 2014; Mair and Marti, 2006) in order to increase our knowledge regarding accountability and PMS for hybrid and nonprofit organisations (Gray et al., 2001). In more detail, what many authors suggest is that it is now urgent to investigate the “participatory dimension” of PMS and social impact measurement in hybrid organizations (Costa et al., 2018; Arvidson et al., 2013; Gibbon and Dey, 2011) which allows stakeholders to be engaged in the designing of the social impact metrics. In this regard, it seems that the assessment of a key stakeholder role for designing PMS and social impact measures may become a critical element, rather than a starting point for the development of a better impact measurement.

The role of top-managers and CEOs for corporate performance and decision-making outcomes

Proponents: Enrico Zaninotto and Fabio Zona

This proposal for is linked with the “LAMACO” research project at UniTN, a research project aiming to constitute the first, extensive and comprehensive laboratory in Italy for exploring the role of top managers for corporate decision making and performance. Management research has long pointed to CEO/management characteristics as core sources of firm performance and strategic choices. Building on the assumption of bounded rationality (March & Simon, 1958), the ‘upper-echelon theory’ (Hambrick & Mason, 1984) clarified how organizational actions and performance can be predicted by the biases and dispositions of their most powerful actors, i.e., their top managers. This is especially true, for strategic decisions, which present significant behavioural components and are thus more likely to reflect the idiosyncrasies of decisions makers at the top (e.g., CEO/TMT). Within this framework, “the demographic characteristics of executives can be used as valid, albeit incomplete and imprecise, proxies of executives’ cognitive frames” (Hambrick, 2007: 335). Scholars have extensively drawn from this perspective (Hambrick, 2007; Carpenter, Geletkanycz, Sanders, 2004; Wang et al., 2016), but further aspects are worthy of consideration for new research advances. Examples may include: (1) the antecedents of managerial characteristics. While the research focus has been mostly placed on how managerial backgrounds impact on firm outcomes, little is known about how such backgrounds build over time, and whether the ways in which backgrounds are constituted over time affect managerial problem framing and decision making (Crossland et al. 2014; Hjalager 2003); 2) the role of context. New research is needed on the context into which managers make decisions. It has been recently outlined how “if there has been a deficit in contextual theorizing, it is most apparent in a basic lack of theories that treat discrete events as context” (Johns, 2017), with a specific focus on unique or disruptive events (e.g., financial downturn, takeover bids, change in ownership...). Whether and how managers with specific characteristics are more/less able of governing and managing through unique/disruptive events is still in question; 3) the intersection of CEO and TMT/lower-layer executives’ characteristics. While most research has extensively focused on the CEO, new advances are needed on the role of TMT: “leadership of a complex organization is a shared activity, and the collective cognitions, capabilities and interactions of the entire TMT enter into strategic behaviours” (2007: 334). Research has not yet precisely distinguished the real contribution of CEOs vs. TMT and even that of lower-level managers (Ling et al. 2008: 558). These three research items, outlined above, are just representative examples. Alternative, creative projects within this research stream are welcome. Candidates interested in this research area may leverage resources available from, and/or may contribute to the construction of, the LAMACO (LAboratory MAnagerial COmpetencies)’s resources, a founded research project recently sponsored by University of Trento, which aims at collecting CVs of Italian firms’ CEOs/TMT in order to explore their role in corporate behaviours and performance.


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