Journal of Consumer Policy

, Volume 30, Issue 1, pp 21–38 | Cite as

The average consumer, the unfair commercial practices directive, and the cognitive revolution

  • Rossella Incardona
  • Cristina PoncibòEmail author
Original Paper


This article examines the merit of the test of the average consumer as a basis for judicial and regulatory action. In the first part, we describe the origin of the test, its application in the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive and its possible developments. In the second part, we discuss the theoretical grounds of the average consumer test (i.e., information and rationality), drawing upon the studies of cognitive psychology and behavioural economics concerning consumers’ behaviour. The result of our analysis is that we call into serious question the practical workability of the test of the average consumer, which requires consumers an overly demanding standard of rationality and information without dedicating much attention to the real functioning of consumer behaviour. The average consumer may be described as an interesting, anti-paternalistic and, to some extent, useful notion. It is, however, an overly simplistic concept with little correspondence with the real world of individual consumer behaviour and should be reinterpreted more flexibly, or even abandoned to mirror consumer behaviour more effectively.


Average consumer Unfair commercial practice directive Cognitive studies 



A preliminary version of this paper has been presented at the Regional Consumer Law Conference organised by the International Association of Consumer Law and the Consumer Affairs Council of Malta, 16th and 17th March 2006. Conference website: The authors would like to thank Jack Cumming and Prof. Raffaele Caterina, University of Turin, for their insightful comments on the first draft of this article. Cristina Poncibò acknowledges a postdoctoral grant from the Lagrange Project on the “Challenge of Complex Systems,” CRT Foundation and University of Eastern Piedmont,


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Freshfields Bruckhaus DeringerRomeItaly
  2. 2.Lagrange ProjectTorinoItaly

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