Auditors' ability to discern the presence of ethical problems

Journal of Business Ethics 15 (10):1033 - 1050 (1996)
Abstract
Recently, society and the accounting profession have become increasingly concerned with ethics. Accounting researchers have responded by attempting to investigate and analyze the ethical behavior of accountants. While the current state of ethical behavior among practitioners is important, the ability of accountants to detect ethical problems that may not be obvious should also be studied and understood. This study addresses three questions: (1) are auditors alert to ethical issues; (2) if so, how important do they perceive them to be; and (3) what factors affect their sensitivity threshold and their perceptions of the importance of the issues?Most of the prior research in accounting ethics presents subjects with scenarios that contain an obvious ethical issue, and subjects realize that they are participating in an ethics study. In the present study, the ethical problems are integrated into general accounting situations in order to discover the sensitivity of accounting professionals to them. This study defines ethical sensitivity as the ability to interpret a given situation and to realize that a moral problem exists.
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