How Do Auditors Order Their Tasks, and How Does Task Ordering Affect Performance? Open Access

Mocadlo, Robert (2016)

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I examine how the subjectivity of task criteria influences auditors' ordering and performance of audit tasks under time pressure. Tasks with more objective criteria provide little flexibility in how well they can be completed (i.e. they are either performed correctly or incorrectly). On the other hand, tasks with more subjective criteria have a wider range of performance levels which can satisfy the "letter" of the criteria, but not necessarily the "spirit." I predict that as time pressure increases, auditors will prioritize completion of objective tasks over subjective tasks, potentially decreasing performance on subjective tasks. By decreasing performance only on subjective tasks, auditors can address all of the task criteria if only in letter, rather than in spirit. I also predict that this effect will be mitigated by informing auditors of heightened risk related to the subjective task. I tested my hypotheses in an experiment in which auditors attempt to complete both an objective task and a subjective task within an overall time limit. I find that auditors tend to prioritize objective tasks over subjective tasks and that task order affected performance as predicted when auditors worked on the objective task first. I did not find support for risk mitigating these effects.

Table of Contents


I. Introduction 1

II. Background and Hypothesis Development 6

III. Method 14

IV. Results 20

V. Conclusions 28

VI. References 30


Figure 1: Illustration of Criteria Subjectivity 35

Figure 2: Effect of Time Pressure on Objective versus Subjective Tasks 36

Figure 3: Graph of Results for H1 and H2 37


Table 1: Descriptive Statistics for Task Performance 38

Table 2: ANOVA Results for Task Performance 40

Table 3: Descriptive Statistics for Time Spent Performing a Task 43

Table 4: ANOVA Results for Time Spent Performing a Task 45


Appendix A: Substantive Analytical Procedure Approach Language 48

Appendix B: Subjective Task Risk Manipulation 50

Appendix C: Deadline Pressure Manipulation 51

Appendix D: Experiment Instrument 52

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