Author ORCID Identifier

Date of Award

Spring 5-2-2021

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Business Administration (DBA)



First Advisor

Subhashish Samaddar

Second Advisor

Satish Nargundkar

Third Advisor

Amy Dunbar



The Impact of Deliberation Time on Ethical Decision Quality: A Study of Early-Career Professional Accountants


Ricki Livingston

April 2021

Committee Chair: Subhashish Samaddar, PhD

Major Academic Unit: GSU Robinson College of Business

Ethical decision-making is central to the study of the professional accounting practice. When professional accountants engage in decision-making without consideration to ethics, decision quality declines, and stakeholders suffer severe financial implications. Situational factors such as time variation may influence the accountant’s ability to make a sound ethical decision. The result is an increased potential for fraudulent behavior. The Fraud Triangle Theory postulates three factors that must be present for fraud to occur: Rationalization, Pressure, and Opportunity (Cressey, 1973). Recent disruptive trends in professional accounting such as workforce reduction and automation potentially impact ethical decision-making. Both trends result in a change in workload and a new variation in time for deliberation and rationalization. However, despite these substantial changes to the work situation, stakeholders continue to demand stability in ethical decision-making. This study adds evidence to the existing body of knowledge in behavioral accounting examining the impact of deliberation time on ethics in decision making in early-career professional accountants. It is hypothesized that deliberation time influences the quality of the ethical decision. Professional work experience and gender are examined as moderators in both situations.

This dissertation collects data from a panel of 363 master of accounting students over four years in a North American university by presenting scenarios portraying ethical dilemmas in professional accounting. An analysis of student responses to ethical dilemmas using descriptive statistics and hierarchical regression analysis serves to classify the findings based on situational and individual factors. Six hypotheses are tested to find that deliberation time influences ethical decisions. These findings support the Fraud Triangle Theory which posits that rationalization may be a factor leading to unethical behavior. Additionally, these findings serve to inform CPAs and professional accounting firms about the importance of workload balancing and ethical awareness.


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