How Does Intrinsic Motivation Improve Auditor Judgment in Complex Audit Tasks?

Kathryn Kadous, Yuepin Zhou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Intrinsic motivation is generally thought to be positively associated with performance on a variety of tasks. However, there is only sparse experimental evidence supporting this idea and we know little about the specific mechanisms behind any effect. We develop theory about how auditors’ intrinsic motivation for their jobs can improve their judgments about complex accounting estimates. We experimentally test whether a prompt to make auditors’ intrinsic motivation for their jobs salient improves the specific information processing behaviors necessary for high-quality judgments in complex audit tasks. It does: Prompted auditors attend to a broader set of information, process information more deeply, and request more relevant additional evidence. Supplemental analyses show that these processing behaviors mediate between salient intrinsic motivation and an improved ability to identify a biased complex estimate. Our theory and analyses indicate that auditors’ intrinsic motivation for their work provides unique value for improving judgment quality, particularly in the context of performing complex audit tasks. Our study supports the view that high-quality cognitive processing can improve auditors’ professional skepticism by providing a foundation for skeptical judgments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)108-131
Number of pages24
JournalContemporary Accounting Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2019


  • Intrinsic Motivation
  • Cognitive Processing
  • Complex Estimate
  • Professional Skepticism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Accounting
  • Finance
  • Economics and Econometrics


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