, Volume 61, Issue 2, pp 165-181

Ethical Decision Making in the Public Accounting Profession: An Extension of Ajzen’s Theory of Planned Behavior

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Abstract

The purpose of this study is to expand our understanding of the factors that influence ethical behavioral intentions of public accountants. Recent scandals have dominated the news and have caused legislators, regulators and the public to question the role of the accounting profession. Legislative changes have brought about major structural changes in the profession and continued scrutiny will surely lead to further changes. Thus, developing an understanding of the personal and contextual factors that influence ethical decisions is critical. An extension of the theory of planned behavior [Ajzen, I.: 1985, Action Control-From Cognition to Behavior (Springer, Heidelberg)], the model used in this study examined the influence of personal, social and organizational factors on ethical intentions. Specifically, the individual level model tested direct effects of attitudes, subjective norms, perceived behavioral control, moral sensitivity and ethical climate. Professionals from five accounting firms completed a survey that measured responses to ethical dilemmas related to the public accounting domain. To minimize the potential impact of common method bias, the survey instrument was administered in two phases. Hypotheses were evaluated using a structural modeling technique, partial least squares. Results show strong support for a direct relationship between attitudes and ethical intentions. The proposed direct effect of subjective norms was not supported. However, a significant relationship between subjective norms and attitudes was found. Professionals’ attitudes towards ethical issues clearly influence intentions. Moreover, this study illustrates the potential influence of social factors in attitude formation. Future research should explore the factors in the public accounting domain that most strongly influence attitude formation. This study suggests that the theory of reasoned action offers a useful framework for exploring these issues.