The Impact of Ethical Development and Cultural Constructs on Auditor Judgments

Business Ethics Quarterly 14 (3):553-579 (2004)
Abstract
This research examines in a collectivist culture the influence of cognitive moral development, attitudes toward rule-directed behavior,and the perceived importance of codes of conduct and professional standards on auditor judgments about ethical dilemmas. Taiwanese audit professionals were asked to respond to two ethical dilemmas. The first dilemma concerns a situation in which the auditor is asked to acquiesce to a controller’s request to conceal an irregularity. The probability that the auditor’s acquiescence is discovered (i.e., the threat of a sanction) was manipulated in this scenario. The second dilemma involves a case in which the auditor has information that a write-down of obsolete inventory will have a material effect on the earnings of a corporation, and must considerwhether or not to inform an individual who is heavily invested in the corporation. The individual’s ingroup status (i.e., whether the individual was a relative or friend of the auditor) was manipulated in this scenario.Auditors were more likely to agree with violations of ethical standards in the first scenario (concealing a client employee’s irregularity)than in the second (revealing confidential information to parties outside the client). In the first scenario, auditors with lower levels of cognitive moral development were less likely to agree with violations of ethical standards when the threat of a sanction was present, while the judgments of those with higher levels of cognitive moral development were not affected by the presence of sanctions. Contrary to expectations, auditors were more likely to agree with violations of ethical standards when the individual involved was a close friend, rather than a relative. In general, as the perceived importance of rules increased, the propensity to violate the Code of Conduct decreased
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