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Philip Alexander Heinz

First Name: Philip Alexander
Surname: Heinz
Department Dept of Accounting and Corporate Governance
Supervisor(s): Prof. Chris Patel , Dr. Andreas Hellmann

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Paper Title

“Holier‐than‐thou” Perception Bias among Professional Accountants and Accounting Students in Germany


The first objective of this study is to provide empirical evidence on whether "holier‐than‐thou" perception bias exists among professional accountants and accounting students in Germany. The second objective of this paper is to examine whether the magnitude of "holier‐than‐thou" perception bias is larger for professionals compared to students.


Research evidence shows that individuals generally perceive themselves as being more ethical than their peers. This bias, known as "holier‐than‐thou" perception bias, has implications in accounting contexts because this bias may foster an unethical organizational culture. Specifically, individuals with "holier‐than‐thou" perception bias may justify their own unethical behavior as needed to compete with their peers.

Key literature/theoretical perspective

This paper examines one specific component of socially desirable responding, namely "holier‐than‐thou" perception bias. Key literature includes accounting, sociology, and psychology.


Data was collected through a survey questionnaire, including five scenarios and questions to measure "holier‐than‐thou" perception bias. This survey was distributed to samples of professionals from big accounting firms and university accounting students in Germany.


The results of this study show that "holier‐than‐thou" perception bias exists among professional accountants and accounting students in Germany. As such, both groups consider themselves as more ethical than their peers. However, the magnitude of the difference in "holier‐than‐thou" perception bias between professional accountants and accounting students was statistically not significant.

Research limitations/implications

The usual limitations of survey research apply. For example, the scenarios may not fully depict ‘real‐life‐situations’. Moreover, judgments on ethical issues are complex and may not be captured by the scenarios.

Practical and Social implications

The findings of this study contribute to the controversial and important topic of ethics in accounting. The findings also have implications for professional accountants, accounting firms, researchers and accounting education. For example, the findings of this study may be incorporated into various training programs for professional accountants and accounting students.


"Holier‐than‐thou" perception bias; ‘Social Desirability Response Bias’; Organizational culture in Big 4 accounting firms; Germany