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Air pollution, auditors' pessimistic bias and audit quality: evidence from China

Huangyue Chen (School of Management, Jinan University , Guangzhou, China)
Xiaoping Tan (School of Management, Jinan University , Guangzhou, China)
Qun CAO ( Macau University of Science and Technology , Beijing, China)

Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal

ISSN: 2040-8021

Article publication date: 10 July 2020

Issue publication date: 16 January 2021




This paper aims to investigate whether and how air pollution affects auditor behavior and audit quality. Specifically, the authors draw from studies of behavioral economics and psychology to develop a new prediction that air pollution-induced negative mood causes pessimistic bias in auditors’ risk assessments of client firms, which motivates them to put more effort into achieving higher audit quality.


This study uses a sample of Chinese public firms for the period 2013 to 2018 and an ordinary least squares model to examine the effects of air pollution on audit quality.


The results suggest that auditors exposed to higher levels of air pollution are more likely to put more effort into their audits, resulting in higher audit quality. Furthermore, the impacts of air pollution on audit quality are more pronounced when an auditor has a higher level of education, a major in accounting or a related subject and a position as a partner. A series of identification tests and sensitivity tests further support the main findings.

Practical implications

This study provides deeper insight into how air pollution affects auditors’ decision-making through its effect on mood.

Social implications

The findings have broad potential implications for auditing and other high-skill professions. Because air pollution-induced negative mood is a common occurrence and numerous psychological experiments have demonstrated the potentially adaptive and beneficial role of negative mood in decision-making for professions like auditing that need a more conservative, alert and detail-oriented cognitive style, negative mood may to some extent facilitate decision-making. Professionals may benefit from paying closer attention to the adaptive benefits of different moods.


Few studies empirically discuss the effects of auditors’ psychology on audit outcomes. This study responds to this research gap with analyzes of how air pollution-induced negative mood can affect auditors’ professional judgment and audit outcomes. Further, this study adds to the growing literature that examines how air pollution affects various aspects of the economy and enriches the literature on behavioral economics, providing empirical evidence from a large sample of the effects of an environmental stressor on individual auditors’ professional judgment.



Chen, H., Tan, X. and CAO, Q. (2021), "Air pollution, auditors' pessimistic bias and audit quality: evidence from China", Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal, Vol. 12 No. 1, pp. 74-104.



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