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    Does the Arrangement of Audit Evidence According to Causal...
    research summary posted October 19, 2015 by Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips, tagged 09.0 Auditor Judgment, 09.11 Auditor judgment in the workpaper review process, 11.0 Audit Quality and Quality Control, 11.06 Working Paper Review – Conduct, Biases and Predispositions 
    Does the Arrangement of Audit Evidence According to Causal Connections Make Auditors More Susceptible to Memory Conjunction Errors?
    Practical Implications:

    Evaluating multiple causally arranged evidence sets may precipitate an auditor’s inability to accurately discern the source that pertains to specific information. Susceptibility to source misattributions may cause auditors to inadvertently evoke erroneous client information when rendering memory-based auditing judgments for a client and, therefore, create the potential for impaired judgment quality. Although working papers can serve to curtail informational misattributions, such as those created by MCEs, auditors can become overconfident in the accuracy of their memories and not thoroughly reexamine the working papers for verification. Subsequent to rendering an auditing decision, auditors concurrently working on multiple clients should consider reducing reliance on memory and tailoring working paper review to ensure the relationship between a decision for a certain client and its evidence.


    Grossman, A. M., and R. B. Welker. 2011. Does the Arrangement of Audit Evidence According to Causal Connections Make Auditors More Susceptible to Memory Conjunction Errors? Behavioral Research in Accounting 23 (2): 93-115.

    auditing, evidence arrangements, going concern judgments, memory conjunction errors, schematic representations
    Purpose of the Study:

    Accounting firms traditionally arrange working paper evidence in accordance with audit planning procedures or in such a way as to facilitate the preparation of the financial statements. Causally connected pieces of evidence can be widely interspersed within these organizational arrangements. For example, a client’s financial ratios may be grouped together to facilitate the performance of preliminary analytical procedures; however, different ratios may correspond to different business processes within the company. The interspersion of causally connected evidence can complicate the task of extracting pertinent causal relationships for audit decision making.

    Considering the potential for auditors’ susceptibility to memory conjunction errors (MCEs), and their potential effect on auditor judgment, it is important to discover under what circumstances auditors’ propensity toward MCEs is exacerbated. The present study demonstrates that audit evidence organized in a causally relevant arrangement can increase auditors’ susceptibility to MCEs. When evidence is arranged in a causally relevant manner, as opposed to a traditional working paper format (i.e., grouped by accounting cycles), deficiencies in encoding from use of schemata may impede later retrieval of specific items of evidence associated with the source client. Causally arranged evidence may cause auditors to draw incorrect inferences that schematic-consistent pieces of evidence that actually originated from other clients were part of the evidence set of the source client.

    Design/Method/ Approach:

    Experimental participants were 72 auditors or former auditors. They had an average age of 38 years, an average of 9.8 years of auditing experience, and an average of 7.1 years of supervisory experience. Sixty-four percent were male, 51 percent had achieved manager or partner positions, and 58 percent currently held an auditing position. The experiment involved a 4 x 2 design and included three phases. The evidence was gathered November 2011.


    The results of this study do not refute the benefits of causally arranged evidence on judgment quality; however, they do suggest that evidence so arranged may elicit a potentially detrimental effect on judgment quality, particularly for practitioners simultaneously conducting multiple audits. Specifically, the results of this study indicate that arranging audit information according to causal connections, as opposed to a more traditional working paper arrangement of information (grouped by market/industry background, auditing procedures, and current-year activity), fosters an increased propensity toward MCEs. Causal ordering of information may allow auditors to decrease the amount of cognitive effort involved in determining relationships among information items, but it may also create a shallower encoding of the individual evidence items and weaker linkages in memory between the evidence items and the client source of the evidence. With weak memory of evidence specifics, auditors may gauge whether they recognize evidence on the basis of its familiarity with storylines extracted from previously encountered evidentiary matter. Causal connectivity between the evidence and a client’s storyline may produce feelings of familiarity and lead auditors to attribute the evidence to that client rather than to the actual source client.

    Audit Quality & Quality Control, Auditor Judgment
    Auditor judgment in the workpaper review process, Working Paper Review – Conduct - Biases & Predispositions