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    Research on Auditor Professional Skepticism: Literature...
    research summary posted November 17, 2014 by Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips, tagged 09.0 Auditor Judgment, 09.10 Prior Dispositions/Biases/Auditor state of mind, 11.0 Audit Quality and Quality Control, 11.09 Evaluation of Evidence 
    Research on Auditor Professional Skepticism: Literature Synthesis and Opportunities for Future Research
    Practical Implications:

    We find that while research studies provide insights into both the antecedents to skeptical judgments and actions, the majority of research efforts to date have focused on the antecedents to skeptical judgments and on auditor characteristics in particular. In addition, in order to understand how skeptical judgment translates into skeptical action, additional research on skeptical action is needed. Also, given the growth of multicultural audit teams, it is necessary to examine whether an auditor’s culture matters and whether it negatively impacts efforts by multinational accounting firms to deliver the same services throughout the world.

    To enhance professional skepticism, auditors should be encouraged to assess strategic and business-related risks, as well as risks of material misstatement in financial statements, in order to develop the expertise necessary to engage in skeptical judgments. Additionally, a demonstrated decrease in skepticism as one moves up through the firm hierarchy, can be addressed through training and education, as well as task specific experience, or expertise. In addition, future research could focus more on how the environment of audit firms can motivate auditors to exhibit more skeptical judgment and action.

    For more information on this study, please contact R. Kathy Hurtt.


    Hurtt, R.K., H. Brown-Liburd, C. E. Earley, and G. Krishnamoorthy. 2013. Research on Auditor Professional Skepticism: Literature Synthesis and Opportunities for Future Research. Auditing: A Journal of Practice & Theory 32 (Supplement 1): 45-97.

    professional skepticism; skepticism; auditor skepticism; auditor judgment; skeptical behavior.
    Purpose of the Study:

    Both researchers (e.g., Nelson 2009) and regulators (e.g., the PCAOB) have emphasized the importance of exercising the appropriate level of professional skepticism when conducting an audit. However, professional skepticism remains a hard concept to define and measure.  In addition, it is often difficult to determine if a lack of skepticism is the primary cause of audit deficiencies and if so, what factors led to the lack of skepticism. The purpose of this paper is threefold: 1) extend the work of Nelson (2009) by synthesizing research related to auditors’ professional skepticism to identify antecedents to both skeptical judgment and skeptical action; 2) identify areas where research is lacking on a particular dimension and suggest avenues for future research; and 3) discuss the implications of research findings for regulators and auditing professionals.

    Design/Method/ Approach:

    We adopt two foundational aspects of the framework introduced in the seminal paper by Nelson (2009), which proposes that lack of skepticism can either be the result of a failure in problem recognition (lack of skeptical judgment) or a failure to act on a problem recognized (lack of skeptical action). We organize research studies into four categories of antecedents: 1) studies relating to auditor characteristics, 2) studies relating to evidence characteristics, 3) studies relating to client characteristics, and 4) studies relating to environmental characteristics. 


    Auditors approach audits with the intention of being professionally skeptical and they often respond to risk by changing behaviors (e.g., expand budgeted audit hours, identify more contradictions, negotiate more forcefully with a client).  In addition, auditors’ professional behavior is affected by cultural differences (Bik 2010) which suggests that culture influences values and these values influence professional and audit judgment (Patel et al. 2002). When professional skepticism is found lacking by the PCAOB and the SEC, researchers have noted the following as possible explanations: individual auditor characteristics may influence the ability of an auditor to recognize situations where additional work or investigation is required; unconscious bias may influence an auditor’s judgments or actions; and lack of knowledge, experience or expertise may impede skeptical judgments.   

    Audit Quality & Quality Control, Auditor Judgment
    Evaluation of Evidence, Prior Dispositions/Biases/Auditor state of mind