Jost et al. (2003) theorizes and finds that business students, on an average, hold a positive fair market ideology (FMI), which suggests that they believe in the power of market forces to reward ethical corporate behavior and punish unethical behavior; accordingly, they tend to make an implicit association between a company's financial performance relative to the stock market and the company's ethics. We suggest that audit education in professional skepticism and ‘red flag’ analysis will mitigate this implicit bias when a company's relative market performance is unusually distant from a referent benchmark, such as an industry average. In a between-participants experiment involving 94 non-audit and 94 audit business students, we measure their FMI, and examine how they perceive the ethicality of a company's management based on the referent direction (above or below the industry average) and referent magnitude (relatively close to or distant from the industry average) of the company's relative market performance. The results suggest that both non-audit and audit students indeed hold a positive FMI, and they ascribe favorable ethical perceptions to company performance that is relatively close to the industry average, irrespective of referent direction. When company performance is relatively distant from the industry average, neither group of students makes the implicit link. Overall, the findings do not indicate that audit education differentially affects business students’ perceptions of corporate ethics when a company's relative stock market performance deviates considerably from a referent benchmark.
Nolder, C. and Hunton, J.E. (2008), "Do audit and non-audit business students implicitly associate a company's relative stock market performance with perceptions of corporate ethical behavior?", Arnold, V., Clinton, B.D., Lillis, A., Roberts, R., Wolfe, C. and Wright, S. (Ed.) Advances in Accounting Behavioral Research (Advances in Accounting Behavioural Research, Vol. 11), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 103-128. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1475-1488(08)11005-5
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