The Effects of a Supportive Learning Culture and Rank on Professional Skepticism in Information Search
Posted: 7 Jan 2020
Date Written: December 16, 2019
Auditors are required to apply professional skepticism throughout the audit process: when searching for information, when forming a judgment, and when deciding on which actions to take. Consequently, audit firms have a vested interest in fostering professional skepticism. Extant conceptual models propose that knowledge is a central driver of professional skepticism, yet a common measure of knowledge - experience - has proven to be an unreliable proxy: it does not take into account that auditors have to learn from experience to develop knowledge. Insights from psychology and management studies emphasize that this learning does not occur automatically, but that it can be fostered at the firm level through a supportive learning culture. Based on these streams of research, the present study explores whether a firm’s learning culture interacts with experience to foster professional skepticism. We observed information search behaviors and recorded intentions to act of 166 auditors across ranks using a representative audit task. Our results show that higher-ranking auditors benefit from working in a more supportive learning culture: they engaged in significantly more skeptical information search and in turn formulated more skeptical intentions to act. A supportive learning culture is therefore essential for enabling the ongoing development of knowledge and exercising professional skepticism, especially at the ranks of manager and partner.
Keywords: professional skepticism, information search, judgment, rank, learning culture
JEL Classification: M42, D83
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