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Material Distortion of Economic Behaviour and Everyday Decision Quality


Misleading information and unfair commercial practices have to be viewed against the background of what consumers otherwise do, i.e., what their purchase decisions look like when no misleading information or no unfair commercial practices are in place. This article provides some of this background by studying how consumers sample information when making an in-store purchase decision. This was done by an eye-tracking study which reveals to what extent consumers succeed in purchasing the products that best meet their purchase intentions when only a representative amount of misleading information is present. The study shows that decisions were suboptimal in relation to what the consumers claimed they wanted to purchase. Only in one product category did consumers in this study actually look at products that were slightly better than average, and as a result, they mainly selected products that were just as often poor as good. If the proportion of bad purchase decisions based on misleading information is small enough, perhaps it might be better to direct the authors’ attention to other ways of improving the decision environments that consumers encounter. In addition, the eye-tracking study provides some insight into how consumers sample information when making an in-store purchase decision. The present data show that consumers invested on average of less than 1 s to look at products.

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    The sample of this study is fairly small; this has to do with the technique at this point being new and not functioning ideally in this environment and we therefore had to exclude many participants. The sample size is however not small in comparison to most studies using eye tracking (see Holmqvist et al. 2011). In addition, the radio interference that made some recordings so bad that they could not be used was random, and thus we have no reason to assume that the participants that were excluded in this way differed from the participants included in the subsequent analysis.


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This research is part of the cross-disciplinary project “Spin or fair speak—when foods talk” funded by the Programme Committee on Health, Food, and Welfare under the Danish Council for Strategic Research (Grant No. 09-061379/DSF). The project is carried out as a collaboration between the FairSpeak Group, Copenhagen Business School, and researchers from The Humanities Lab and Cognitive Science, Lund University (Sweden). See

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Correspondence to Kerstin Gidlöf.

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Gidlöf, K., Wallin, A., Holmqvist, K. et al. Material Distortion of Economic Behaviour and Everyday Decision Quality. J Consum Policy 36, 389–402 (2013).

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  • Consumer behaviour
  • Consumer decision making
  • Unfair commercial practices directive
  • Information search
  • Decision quality