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In a recent study, published in the European Accounting Review (EAR) Special Issue on Literature Reviews in Accounting, we provide a comprehensive review and synthesis of experimental research that examines persuasion in auditing. Our review spans 98 articles and includes both published papers in 27 leading academic journals and recent working papers on the Social Science Research Network.
Persuasion is a strategic attempt to influence someone’s beliefs, attitudes, decisions, or actions. Persuasion attempts regularly occur during financial statement audits, both between auditors and clients, and among auditors within an engagement team. For example, client managers may seek to persuade auditors that their preferred accounting treatment is acceptable. Working paper preparer-auditors persuade reviewer-auditors of their audit work’s adequacy and completeness.
We apply a concise, intuitive model that organizes features of the persuasion context into one of five categories to synthesize findings from auditing research on persuasion. These five categories are: Source, Message, Receiver, Channel, and Destination and are derived from McGuire’s (1969, 1978) five Components of Persuasion Communication.
The source of a persuasive communication is the individual who designs and delivers a persuasion attempt, which can be either client or audit personnel. Several characteristics of a persuasion source can influence whether the persuasion attempt is successful. In auditing, the source’s perceived competence, expertise, and objectivity are heavily researched within the context of persuasion attempts.
Attributes of a persuasive message include the various techniques and tactics that a persuasion source uses in his or her persuasive communication to influence a receiver. For example, several auditing studies examine the efficacy of various persuasion tactics—diversionary statements deployed to convince the message recipient to agree with a preferred accounting outcome.
The receiver is the individual targeted by the persuasion attempt. How a receiver copes with a persuasion attempt will ultimately determine whether attitude change and/or belief revision occurs. While several receiver characteristics are examined in the auditing literature, auditors’ trait level of professional skepticism is often emphasized as an essential, stable characteristic for resisting persuasion.
The message channel is the mode in which the persuasive communication is delivered. For instance, is the persuasion attempt delivered electronically, in written form, or verbally? Lastly, the desired change in attitude or beliefs are the goals (destination) of the persuasive communication. In an auditing context, these goals often center around whether to accept a client’s preferential accounting treatment.
From our analysis, we find that there is a significant concentration of prior auditing research on source, message, and receiver variables, and we develop 26 questions for future research to consider based on the gaps we identify in the literature. These research questions are organized around the same five Components of Persuasion Communication.
Our literature review framework recognizes that persuasion is a complex process, and the effectiveness of a persuasion attempt is likely affected by several personal and situational characteristics. Research addressing these factors has the potential to extend academic literature on persuasion, while also providing valuable insights for practitioners and regulators that could improve auditors’ resistance to persuasion and, in turn, improve audit and financial reporting quality.
You can find out more about our study at https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09638180.2020.1863243
 McGuire, W. J. (1969). The nature of attitudes and attitude change, in E. Aronson & G. Lindzey (Eds.), The Handbook of Social Psychology (2nd ed., Vol. 3, pp. 136–314). Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
 McGuire, W. J. (1978). An information-processing model of advertising effectiveness. In H. L. Davis & A. J. Silk (Eds.), Behavioral and Management Sciences in Marketing (pp. 156–180). New York, NY: Wiley.