Cognitive dissonance and auditor professional skepticism

Ruwan Adikaram, Julia Higgs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: This study aims to demonstrate how pressures (incentives) in the audit environment can lower audit quality because of a breakdown between professionally skeptical (PS) judgment (risk assessment) and PS action (testing). Design/methodology/approach: The authors used a Qualtrics-based experiment with attitude change as a proxy measure of cognitive dissonance (CD). The authors analyze the results using a one-way independent between-group ANOVA with post hoc tests and t-tests. Findings: The authors find that auditors experience CD when they fail to take appropriate high PS action (audit tests) that are in line with high PS judgment (risk assessments). The motivational force to reduce CD drives auditors to revise their assessments upward (rank higher), lower diagnostic audit tests (PS actions) and lower risk assessments (PS judgments). This leads to lower overall professional skepticism, and hence lower audit quality. Originality/value: This investigation provides an empirical investigation of Nelson’s (2009) model of professional skepticism and demonstrates a specific mechanism for how incentives in the audit environment lower audit quality. Based on the findings, treatments to enhance audit quality can benefit by strengthening the critical link between PS judgments (risk assessments) and PS actions (audit tests).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)71-110
Number of pages40
JournalManagerial Auditing Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 15 2024
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, Emerald Publishing Limited.


  • Audit quality
  • Audit risk assessment
  • Cognitive dissonance
  • Professional skepticism
  • Professionally skeptical action (testing)
  • Professionally skeptical judgment (risk assessment)
  • Time pressure


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