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.." And "The probability that my peers would undertake the same action is...." It is the difference in the responses given to these two questions, as captured on a seven point Likert scale, that is the measure of the social desirability response bias. (Tyson: 1992; Cohen et al.: 1995, 1996, 2001).
Many studies have been done on the role and correlation between moral development and ethical decision making as it applies to various professionals. A majority of these research studies have found that such things as gender, education, age and taking ethics courses in school have some affect on one's moral reasoning developments (Armstrong: 1993; Elm, Kennedy & Lawton: 2001; Jones & Hiltebeitel: 1995; Ponemon & Glazer: 1990; Shaub: 1994). However, many studies have also found exactly the opposite, in that no significant relationship exists. (Ma & Chan: 1987; Rogers & Smith: 2001; Thorne, Massey & Magnan: 2003).
Studies have also been done on CPAs specifically, finding that as a whole CPAs do not have a higher level of moral reasoning compared with individuals who have similar educational and economic backgrounds. (Bay & Greenberg: 2001; Jeffrey: 1993; Ponemon: 1993; Ponemon & Glazer: 1990). Ponemon, in his longitudinal study of auditing managers and partners, specifically found that individuals who showed as having a higher level of ethical reasoning per their DIT scores were also more responsive to ethical dilemmas. Further, those with higher DIT scores are also more likely to frame their ethical judgments independent and separate from clients and other colleagues within the same firm. Trevino and Youngblood, for example, found that MBA students at the postconventional stage of Kohlberg's moral development are more likely view questionable issues as being unethical as opposed to students at the conventional or preconventional stages of development. Further, their studies revealed that progression from stage to stage of moral development correlates with an individual's ability to make ethical judgments less and less dependent on outside influences. Therefore it can be concluded that individuals who are more morally developed are less likely to engage in unethical behavior. (Leming: 1978; Ponemon: 1992; Trevino and Youngblood: 1990).
Based on this previously established research, this study proposes that CPAs with lower stages of moral development as derived from the DIT scores, will agree more with questionable actions as compared to CPAs with higher stages of moral development. In conducting this research study, the relevant demographic and institutional variables identified include age, gender, general education level and ethical education level. The reason for these variables are due to previously found correlations. For example, Rest has indicated that DIT scores increase over time, or with age.
Further, as a result of the information gathered from the aforementioned literature review, this study proposes that there are differences in the moral development of CPAs in Taiwan of different age groups. More so, this study proposes that there are differences in the ethical decision-making of CPAs in Taiwan of different age groups.
It is also proposed that there are differences in the moral development of male and female CPAs in Taiwan with male CPAs being more agreeable with questionable actions. This hypothesis is based on past studies that have shown that males are more likely to engage in unethical behavior because, as a gender, they focus more heavily on competitive success and will thus break the rules when it means achieving more success.
The research conducted by Rest has further found that "the average DIT scores increases about ten points with each increase in level of education." (Rest: 1979, p. 110). Thus, this study proposes that there are differences in the moral development of CPAs in Taiwan relating to their educational level. Further, this study proposes that there are differences in the ethical decision-making of CPAs in Taiwan relating to their educational level.
Finally, because there has been an established relationship between ethical education and moral development, many accounting programs have implemented ethics-related curricula into their programs. This study will further investigate the effect ethics education has on the moral development and ethical decision making of CPAs as there has been little prior research conducted in this area. This study proposes that the levels of moral development of CPAs who have taken ethics courses are different than those who have not take ethics courses. Likewise, this study proposes that the levels of ethical decision making CPAs who have taken ethics courses are different than those who have not taken ethics courses.
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