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Professional skepticism and auditor cognitive performance in a hypothesis-testing task

Marietta Peytcheva (Department of Accounting, Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, USA)

Managerial Auditing Journal

ISSN: 0268-6902

Article publication date: 1 January 2014

Abstract

Purpose

This paper aims to study the effects of two different types of state skepticism prompts, as well as the effect of the trait of professional skepticism on auditor cognitive performance in a hypothesis-testing task. It examines the effect of a professional skepticism prompt, based on the presumptive doubt view of professional skepticism, as well as the effect of a cheater-detection prompt, based on social contracts theory.

Design/methodology/approach

Seventy-eight audit students and 85 practising auditors examine an audit case and determine the evidence needed to test the validity of a management's assertion in a Wason selection task. The experiment manipulates the presence of a professional skepticism prompt and the presence of a cheater-detection prompt. The personality trait of professional skepticism is measured with Hurtt's scale.

Findings

The presence of a professional skepticism prompt improves cognitive performance in the sample of students, but not in the sample of auditors. The presence of a cheater-detection prompt has no significant effect on performance in the student or auditor sample. The personality trait of professional skepticism is a significant predictor of cognitive performance in the sample of students but not in the sample of auditors.

Research limitations/implications

Results suggest that increasing the states of skepticism or suspicion toward the client firm's management may have no incremental effect on the normative hypothesis testing performance of experienced auditors. However, actively encouraging skeptical mindsets in novice auditors is likely to improve their cognitive performance in hypothesis testing tasks.

Originality/value

The study is the first to examine the joint effects of two specific types of state skepticism prompts, a professional skepticism prompt and a cheater-detection prompt, as well as the effect of the personality trait of professional skepticism, on auditor cognitive performance in a hypothesis-testing task. The study contributes to the literature by bringing together the psychology theory of social contracts and auditing research on professional skepticism, to examine auditors' reasoning performance in a hypothesis-testing task.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The author gratefully acknowledges financial support for this study from the Martindale Center for the Study of Private Enterprise at Lehigh University.

Citation

Peytcheva, M. (2014), "Professional skepticism and auditor cognitive performance in a hypothesis-testing task", Managerial Auditing Journal, Vol. 29 No. 1, pp. 27-49. https://doi.org/10.1108/MAJ-04-2013-0852

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited