"Holier-than-thou" perception bias among professional accountants: A cross-cultural study

Chris Patel*, Brian R. Millanta

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Theoretical conceptions of culture in accounting research are controversial, ranging from highly deterministic, quantified and componential perspectives (such as Hosfstede's five dimensional model) to those that suggest continual changes in cultural values brought about by forces of acculturation. This paper makes a contribution to cross-cultural accounting research by examining the influence of competing theoretical perspectives of culture and acculturation on "holier-than-thou" perception bias. "Holier-than-thou" perception bias leads to individuals perceiving themselves as acting more ethically than comparable others when confronted with ethically uncertain work-related behaviours. This study contributes to cross-cultural accounting research by surveying Australian and Indian professional accountants from big four accounting firms. We firstly seek to establish the prevalence of "holier-than-thou" perception bias in both cultural settings. Secondly, we examine the differential and competing influences of culture and acculturation on perceptions of accountants from the two countries on measures of this bias. Data was collected through a survey questionnaire administered to samples of senior accountants from the big accounting firms in Australia and India. The questionnaire comprised an auditor-client conflict and two whistle-blowing scenarios and used two questions to measure the magnitude of the bias. The results show that "holier-than-thou" perception bias exists among accountants within each of the two countries. However, the magnitude of the bias was not significant between the countries. The results support the theory of acculturation in big accounting firms. Our findings have implications for accounting research where the presence of "holier-than-thou" perception bias needs to be considered in cases where respondents are questioned on socially sensitive issues. The findings may be useful to accounting researchers, managers of multinational enterprises in general, and big-four accounting firms in particular. Our conceptual framework applied in this study is innovative and provides a template for assessing current controversies in cross-cultural accounting research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)373-381
Number of pages9
JournalAdvances in Accounting
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2011


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