Original Research - Special Collection: Corporate Governance

Emotional intelligence as a key driver of the formation of professional scepticism in auditors

Sonja Cilliers
South African Journal of Business Management | Vol 54, No 1 | a3654 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajbm.v54i1.3654 | © 2023 Sonja Cilliers | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 02 October 2022 | Published: 23 May 2023

About the author(s)

Sonja Cilliers, University of Stellenbosch Business School, Faculty of Economic Management Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Bellville, South Africa


Purpose: Litigation against auditors has augmented as the number of corporate failures increased over the past decades. A failure to exercise professional scepticism has been cited as one of the main contributing factors to audit failure. This research establishes a link between professional scepticism and emotional intelligence (EI). Credence is given to the design of interventions promoting the development of auditor EI with the view of combating the incidence of audit failure.

Design/methodology/approach: A sample of United States (US) judicial opinions was examined where professional scepticism of auditors was considered. A dual coding system was applied where process elements of professional scepticism and components of emotional intelligence were identified and linked.

Findings/results: A significant overlap between elements of professional scepticism and facets of emotional intelligence was indicated, especially those of self-assessment, conscientiousness, organisational awareness, communication skills, leadership and managing influence.

Practical implications: Emotional intelligence competencies become part of the resources available to the auditor, which may be used to exercise their professional scepticism. Interventions designed to enhance auditor emotional intelligence may positively impact the levels of professional scepticism demonstrated, ultimately aiding in lowering the incidence of audit failure.

Originality/value: This research offers a new process perspective of professional scepticism which has been adapted from the works of seminal authors in the field. Using the data sample, the incidences of overlap between emotional intelligence and the process steps of professional scepticism are identified and categorised within this framework. This research contributes to the body of empirical research on emotional intelligence in the auditing field.


professional scepticism; auditor emotional intelligence; audit failure; auditor behaviour; auditor performance; auditor communication; auditor independence; corporate failure

JEL Codes

G41: Role and Effects of Psychological, Emotional, Social, and Cognitive Factors on Decision Making in Financial Markets

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions


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Crossref Citations

1. The relationship between soft skills, stress and reduced audit quality practices
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Review of Accounting and Finance  vol: 23  issue: 3  first page: 353  year: 2024  
doi: 10.1108/RAF-06-2023-0186