Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 96, Issue 4, pp 657–668 | Cite as

The Meaning(s) of Trust. A Content Analysis on the Diverse Conceptualizations of Trust in Scholarly Research on Business Relationships

  • Sandro Castaldo
  • Katia PremazziEmail author
  • Fabrizio Zerbini


Scholarly research largely converges on the argument that trust is of paramount importance to drive economic agents toward mutually satisfactory, fair, and ethically compliant behaviors. There is, however, little agreement on the meaning of trust, whose conceptualizations differ with respect to actors, relationships, behaviors, and contexts. At present, we know much better what trust does than what trust is. In this article, we present an extensive review and analysis of the most prominent articles on trust in market relationships. Using computer-aided content analysis and network analysis methods, we identify key, recurring dimensions that guided the conceptualization of trust in past research, and show how trust can be developed as a multifaceted and layered construct. Our results are an important contribution to a convergence of research toward a shared and common view of the meaning of trust. This process is important to ensure the body of trust research’s internal theoretical consistency, and to provide reliable and common principles for the management of business relationships – a context in which opportunism and imperfect information may induce economic actors to cheat and stray from fair and ethically compliant behaviors.


trust trust conceptualization business relationships content analysis network analysis review 


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The authors are grateful to the Editor and the two anonymous referees for their insightful comments on prior versions of this article. The authors would like also to thank Consuelo Gastaldo for her support in the earlier steps of the research process.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sandro Castaldo
    • 1
  • Katia Premazzi
    • 1
    Email author
  • Fabrizio Zerbini
    • 1
  1. 1.SDA Bocconi School of ManagementBocconi UniversityMilanItaly

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