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    The Outcome Effect and Professional Skepticism
    research summary posted February 16, 2017 by Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips, tagged 08.0 Auditing Procedures – Nature, Timing and Extent, 08.04 Auditors’ Professional Skepticism 
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    Title:
    The Outcome Effect and Professional Skepticism
    Practical Implications:

    These findings demonstrate that, although the profession is calling for more skepticism, the underlying culture may inhibit such behavior if auditors are punished for being skeptical when it turns out there is no misstatement. In relation to consultation prior to skeptical behavior, an internal firm-level training that makes evaluators more aware of outcome bias may be more effective than a subordinate-driven solution if encouraging skeptical behavior. 

    Citation:

    Brazel, J. F., S. B. Jackson, T. J. Schaefer, and B. W. Stewart. 2016. The Outcome Effect and Professional Skepticism. The Accounting Review 91 (6): 1577 – 1599. 

    Keywords:
    audit, evaluation, hindsight bias, outcome effect, and professional skepticism.
    Purpose of the Study:

    The level of audit quality on audit engagements hinges on the amount of professional skepticism exercised by auditors. This viewpoint has led to a renewed focus on addressing auditors’ failure to exercise sufficient levels of skepticism.  Highly skeptical auditors increase the likelihood that material misstatements are detected, but exercising skepticism may also come at a cost when additional work is performed to obtain sufficient and appropriate evidence. The authors experimentally test whether outcome effects exist in supervisors’ evaluations of skeptical behavior. Specifically, does outcome information affect the evaluation of an auditor’s decision to investigate a matter as though the auditor should have “known all along” whether a misstatement existed? 

    Design/Method/ Approach:

    The authors utilize an experiment in which practicing audit seniors were asked to evaluate the performance of a hypothetical staff auditor on his or her engagement. They also administered a survey to investigate auditors’ perceptions of how the outcome of investigating an inconsistency affects how they are evaluated. 

    Findings:
    • The authors find strong support for the prediction that the outcome of an investigation will affect auditors’ performance evaluations. Despite the fact that the staff auditors exhibited the same skeptical judgments and actions, the outcome effect causes their evaluations to provide lower performance evaluations to staff who do not identify a misstatement versus staff who do identify a misstatement.
    • The authors observe that the outcome of the investigation influences the perceived benefit of the investigation, which, in turn, influences whether the evaluator frames the cost of the investigation as lost time or a normal cost of the audit.
    • The authors’ survey results suggest that the participants anticipate that outcome effects will be present in the evaluations of auditors who engage in skeptical behavior.
    • In addition, although one might think that consultation could provide an easy fix for outcome bias in evaluations, the authors find that even when subordinates consult with their supervisors prior to engaging in skeptical behavior and receive permission to proceed, supervisors are unable to purge outcome bias from their evaluations of audit staff.  
    Category:
    Auditing Procedures - Nature - Timing and Extent
    Sub-category:
    Auditors’ Professional Skepticism