Date of Award

Summer 1997

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Business Administration (DBA)


School of Accountancy

First Advisor

Thomas Phillips


Concern over the ethical behavior of accountants in public practice is legitimate. Willful misrepresentation of accounting information undermines the effective operation of economic institutions and social systems that rely on financial information. Such concern, fueled by salient instances of accounting failures, has prompted investigation by the federal government and research by both accounting institutions and researchers in academe.

One of the most critical claims coming out of these inquiries is that the accounting profession is controlled by a self perpetuating culture that too readily identifies with the interests of clients, as opposed to the needs of financial information users. Anecdotal evidence of the existence of the culture has been developed in congressional hearings, and controlled empirical evidence of such has been developed in a number of research efforts.

The present study is directed at challenging the conclusion, derived in prior research, that people in decision-making positions in the accounting profession exhibit a diminished capacity for moral reasoning in cognitive developmental terms. Methodological errors in data collection in prior research are corrected. Results of the present study depart materially from results previously published. Evidence is provided that deficient moral reasoning capacity, in cognitive developmental terms, is not a positive criterion for retention and promotion in the profession.

Issues of reasoning "content," as opposed to reasoning "capacity," in cognitive developmental terms, are a major part of the study. Reasoning content in the form of political ideology is examined as a factor that complicates interpretation of Defining Issues Test scores.

Also analyzed are gender differences in Defining Issues Test P scores (females outperform males), differences in P scores for different geographic regions (the South under performs certain other regions), a comparison of DIT performance of partners as compared to sole proprietors (no difference is apparent), and a contrast of accountants and attorneys (differences are apparent).

Other possible directions for examining ethical issues facing the accounting profession are made more significant and interesting as a consequence of results reported. Suggestions for further research are provided.