Auditors’ Professional Skepticism: Traits, Behavioral Intentions, and Actions

69 Pages Posted: 29 Dec 2020 Last revised: 22 Feb 2021

See all articles by Sanne Janssen

Sanne Janssen

Open University; University of Antwerp

Kris Hardies

University of Antwerp

Ann Vanstraelen

Maastricht University

Karla M. Zehms

University of Wisconsin - Madison - Department of Accounting and Information Systems

Date Written: February 12, 2021


We integrate existing conceptual models of auditors’ professional skepticism with the Theory of Planned Behavior to develop an empirically testable model that explains the processes underlying the association between trait skepticism and skeptical actions. We use data from a sample of 663 auditors across all ranks who each completed an experiential questionnaire. The results reveal that partners and managers are more skeptical than seniors and staff and that individual differences and personality traits (agreeableness, conscientiousness, openness, narcissism, and psychopathy) are associated with differential levels of trait skepticism. In empirical tests of our conceptual model, we find that trait skepticism is positively associated with attitudes, subjective norms (i.e., social pressure to behave skeptically), and perceived behavioral control over skepticism (i.e., self-efficacy), which in turn affect intentions to act skeptically. Subjective norms are the strongest predictor of intentions. Attitudes, subjective norms, and perceived behavioral control are positively associated with skeptical actions (in terms of evidence collection and evaluation), and intentions to act skeptically positively mediate these associations. Results of testing the associations in our conceptual model do not differ by rank, revealing that antecedents to skeptical action do not differ based upon auditor experience.

Keywords: professional skepticism; auditor judgment; personality; attitudes

JEL Classification: M42; J24

Suggested Citation

Janssen, Sanne and Hardies, Kris and Vanstraelen, Ann and Zehms, Karla M., Auditors’ Professional Skepticism: Traits, Behavioral Intentions, and Actions (February 12, 2021). Available at SSRN: or

Sanne Janssen

Open University ( email )

P.O. Box 2960
Heerlen 6401DL

University of Antwerp ( email )

Prinsstraat 13
Antwerp, B-2000

Kris Hardies

University of Antwerp ( email )

Department of Accounting and Finance
Pleinlaan 13
Antwerp, 2000

Ann Vanstraelen

Maastricht University ( email )

P.O. Box 616
Maastricht, Limburg 6200MD

Karla M. Zehms (Contact Author)

University of Wisconsin - Madison - Department of Accounting and Information Systems ( email )

School of Business
975 University Avenue
Madison, WI 53706
United States
608-234-1052 (Phone)
608-265-5031 (Fax)

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