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An Investigation of Social Influence: Explaining the Effect of Group Discussion on Consensus in Auditors’ Ethical Reasoning

  • Linda Thorne, Dawn W. Massey and Joanne Jones

Abstract:

This study introduces Moscovici’s (1976, 1985) model of social influence to the accounting research domain, and uses an experiment to assess whether his theory explains how different types of discussion affects consensus in auditors’ ethical reasoning. Moscovici’s theory proposes three modalities of influence to describe how consensus is achieved following discussion: conformity, innovation, and normalization. Conformity describes the situation where individuals in the minority (e.g., auditors that do not accept the dominant view) accede to the majority (e.g., auditors that hold the dominant view) as a result of group discussion. Innovation describes the situation where individuals in the majority accede to the minority. Normalization describes the situation where there is reciprocal influence.

We find that conformity occurs when auditors are asked to prescriptively discuss what ideally “should” be the resolution to an ethical dilemma. Normalization occurs when auditors are asked to deliberatively discuss what realistically would be the resolution to an ethical dilemma. The results of this study suggest that prescriptive discussion of an ethical dilemma encourages auditor groups to strive to find the best response to a moral dilemma if it is represented by the majority view. In contrast, deliberative discussion of an ethical dilemma may encourage the elimination of multiple viewpoints. The results of this study have important implications for understanding the social influence process that affects auditors’ ethical reasoning.

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Business Ethics Quarterly
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