We investigate a key assumption underlying much of the experimental research in financial accounting that graduate business students are a good proxy for nonprofessional investors. To conduct our investigation, we categorize recent experimental studies in financial accounting, based on the relative level of integrative complexity inherent in each study's task. We then conduct experiments using two tasks, one that is relatively low in integrative complexity and one that is relatively high in integrative complexity, and compare the responses of two groups of M.B.A. students and nonprofessional investors. Our results suggest that using M.B.A. students as a proxy for nonprofessional investors is a valid methodological choice, provided researchers give careful consideration to aligning a task's integrative complexity with the appropriate level of M.B.A. student. M.B.A. students who have completed their core M.B.A. courses and are enrolled in or have completed a financial statement analysis course are a good proxy for nonprofessional investors in tasks that are relatively low in integrative complexity. Though less definitive, the majority of our tests also suggest that these students are a good proxy for nonprofessional investors in tasks that are relatively high in integrative complexity. However, care must be taken when using students in the first‐year core financial accounting course. In tasks that are relatively low in integrative complexity, these students perform similarly to nonprofessional investors except when they are asked to make an investment decision. In tasks that are relatively high in integrative complexity, these students acquire information similarly to nonprofessional investors, but they do not appear to integrate the information in a similar manner.
XBRL (eXtensible Business Reporting Language) is an emerging technology that facilitates directed searches and simultaneous presentation of related financial statement and footnote information. We investigate whether using an XBRL‐enhanced search engine helps nonprofessional financial statement users acquire and integrate related financial information when making an investment decision. We conduct our investigation in the context of recognition versus disclosure of stock option compensation. Our results reveal that many users do not access the technology, but those who do use it are better able to acquire and integrate information. Specifically, we find that when stock option accounting varies between firms, the use of an XBRL‐enhanced search engine increases the likelihood that individuals acquire information about stock option compensation disclosed in the footnotes. We also find that XBRL helps individuals integrate the implications of this information, resulting in different investment decisions between individuals who use and do not use the search engine. Our results suggest that search‐facilitating technologies, such as XBRL, aid financial statement users by improving the transparency of firms' financial statement information and managers' choices for reporting that information. Our results also reveal that wide publicity about the benefits of using search‐facilitating technology may be needed to induce financial statement users to access the technology.