The challenge of accurately weighting contrary advice

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Auditors regularly seek informal advice about their initial judgments from other auditors. Audit firms encourage this advice seeking, believing it enhances professional skepticism and improves professional judgment. But does it? A recent study by Kathryn Kadous, professor of accounting; Justin Leiby (U. Florida); and Mark Peecher (U. Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) investigates contrasting theories and evidence on whether seeking advice improves auditors’ judgment and on the factors that influence how readily they incorporate contrary advice into their judgments. They find that nonspecialist auditors who seek advice from those with whom they share a close social bond tend to overestimate the value of that advice. On the other hand, specialists tend to underestimate such advice, perhaps, note the authors, because of threats to the specialists’ egos. In both cases the defensibility of the auditors’ conclusions is negatively affected, heightening audit risk.