Opportunism is in the Eye of the Beholder: Antecedents of Subjective Opportunism Judgments

  • Andaç T. Arıkan
Original Paper


Contractualist work in business ethics as well as in economic organization theory views opportunistic behaviors as problematic since they create economic harm and are often considered to violate ethical norms. Yet, much of the empirical literature on opportunism has adopted a rather simplistic definition of opportunistic behaviors as behaviors that violate formal and/or relational contracts and assumed that instances of opportunism can be unequivocally defined by simply referring to the content of contracts. The consequence of this assumption has been a disregard for factors other than the content of contracts that may influence whether exchange partners judge an unexpected behavior they face during exchange relationships as opportunistic or not. The present investigation explores the factors that shape exchange partners’ subjective opportunism judgments through two vignette-based laboratory experiments. Results from the first experiment, where subjects were asked to take the perspective of a harmed party, show that opportunism judgments are influenced by the type of the behavior, type of the causal account provided for the behavior, perceived type of the exchange, and personality traits of the actor making the judgment. The second experiment, in which subjects were asked to take the perspective of the transgressor, demonstrates the influence of perspective. In particular, victims are more likely to assess a given unexpected behavior as opportunistic than transgressors, and their judgments do not relate to the underlying factors in the same way as the victims’ judgments. I discuss implications in terms of the governance of interfirm exchange relationships.


Opportunism Judgment Exchange Discrete Relational Active opportunism Passive opportunism Trust Causal account Attribution Big 5 Victim Transgressor 



No funding was received.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

Andaç T. Arıkan declares that he has no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Management Programs, College of BusinessFlorida Atlantic UniversityBoca RatonUSA

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