Grounding the Professional Skepticism Construct in Mindset and Attitude Theory: A Way Forward

51 Pages Posted: 16 Nov 2014 Last revised: 27 May 2024

See all articles by Christine J. Nolder

Christine J. Nolder

Suffolk University

Kathryn Kadous

Emory University - Goizueta Business School

Date Written: January 27, 2018


The concept of professional skepticism is pervasive throughout auditing standards, and inspectors around the globe often identify a lack of skepticism as a root cause of audit deficiencies (IFIAR, 2015, 2016). Despite its importance, the professional skepticism construct remains ill-defined and measurements used in research do not map well into practice. The purpose of this paper is to develop a conceptualization of professional skepticism that will facilitate the conduct of research with meaningful implications for practice, providing a way forward for skepticism researchers. To that end, we propose a dual conceptualization of professional skepticism as both a mindset and an attitude, and we rely on mindset and attitude theory to develop measures of each component. Mindsets drive cognitive processing, and the mindset component captures the critical thinking that is an important element of professional skepticism and is required by standards. Including the mindset component reflects the idea that skepticism involves critical analysis of evidence, and not just doubt. Attitudes include affective and cognitive components to predict intentions and behavior, and attitudes recognize the influence of social factors on evaluative judgments. Including an attitude component thus expands the notion of evaluation to include auditors’ feelings, as well as their beliefs, about risk, and it improves the predictive power of “skepticism” for auditors’ evidence collection. We expect that our skeptical mindset and skeptical attitude theoretical approach will move the literature forward, especially in terms of framing standards, developing interventions to improve audit quality, and performing root cause analyses.

Keywords: professional skepticism, auditor judgment, mindset, cognitive processing, attitude

JEL Classification: M40, M41, G10

Suggested Citation

Nolder, Christine J. and Kadous, Kathryn, Grounding the Professional Skepticism Construct in Mindset and Attitude Theory: A Way Forward (January 27, 2018). Accounting, Organizations and Society, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: or

Christine J. Nolder

Suffolk University ( email )

Boston, MA 02108
United States

Kathryn Kadous (Contact Author)

Emory University - Goizueta Business School ( email )

1300 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30322-2722
United States
404-727-4967 (Phone)

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