An investigation of the relationship between mindsets and tasks in an audit environment

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University of Alabama Libraries

This dissertation consists of two studies that investigate the connection between mindset and task in the audit environment. The first study, presented in Chapter 2, investigates how a creative mindset will influence auditor decision making on two different task types: structured and ill-structured tasks. A creative mindset can contribute to audit quality by helping auditors recognize problems, generate novel solutions, and overcome fixation on irrelevant data. However, creativity may come with costs—recent psychology research has found that creative individuals are more likely to engage in ethically questionable behaviors. I leverage regulatory fit theory (Higgins 2000; Higgins 2009) to propose an expanded theoretical model of the link between creativity and unethical behavior that integrates task structure into the existing model. Contrary to my predictions, I find that more creative auditors outperform less creative auditors on both structured and ill-structured tasks. Consistent with my predictions, I find that an ill-structured audit task activates a creative mindset. Although I found no evidence of the costs of creativity that have been found in previous works, future research is necessary to explore whether the “dark side” of creativity has implications for audit quality. The second study, presented in Chapter 3, investigates whether skeptical judgment and skeptical action are best facilitated by distinct and contrasting mindsets. Professional skepticism is an essential element of a high-quality audit. I present a framework in which the two elements that comprise professional skepticism—skeptical judgment and skeptical action—differ in that skeptical judgment involves heeding risks whereas skeptical action involves overcoming risks. This distinction suggests that a mindset that facilitates skeptical judgment may impede skeptical action, and vice versa. To test this proposition, I leverage the mindset theory of action phases (Gollwitzer 1990) to align skeptical judgment and skeptical action with two distinct and contrasting mindsets: skeptical judgment with a deliberative mindset, and skeptical action with an implemental mindset. I conduct an experiment in which I manipulate participants’ mindset, and then test both their skeptical judgment and skeptical action on an audit task. Consistent with theory, I find that skeptical judgment and skeptical action are facilitated by contrasting mindsets, which has important implications for researchers and practitioners designing interventions to improve auditor skepticism.

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