No.13 What is the Courtesy Response Cognitive Bias?

No.13 What is the Courtesy Response Cognitive Bias?

Courtesy Response, a downfall of humankind - we're often so afraid of offending our listener that we hide away from speaking the truth.

Ever disliked your meal in a restaurant? Quietly grumbled to your companion then smiled in admiration at the waiter and told them it was wonderful? That's Courtesy Response!

What is Courtesy Response?

Courtesy Response is a human trait that leads some individuals to not fully state their unhappiness with a service or product because of a desire not to offend the person or organisation that they are responding to.

It is a tendency for a person to respond in a socially acceptable, polite or positive way, regardless of what they actually feel. Whether or not this strategy works depends on the nature of the problem and the attitude and presentation of the parties involved.

Courtesy Response in Retail

For instance, you go to a store and have a horrible experience. The courtesy response would occur if, when asked by the manager how your experience was, you didn't want to cause the staff any trouble with their boss and responded that everything was wonderful. In order to be positive and polite, your true feelings about the experience are not expressed.

When it comes to shopper and consumer research, it is a well-known fact that what shoppers say and what shoppers do are two different things. You should take these steps to validate shopper responses:

1. Implement reality-based research

Study how real shoppers actually behave in-store instead of asking them after the event; their courtesy response will not match their true actions if you perform the latter.

2. Go beyond words

Introduce research methods that study emotional engagement and non-verbal communication for example. This way, there is no opportunity for their courtesy response to warp your findings.

3. Dig into shoppers' short term memory

Shoppers can remember much of their day to day shopping behaviour for no more than 18 seconds. Understand what you can ask in order to get a meaningful response, not just a courtesy response!


The courtesy response is never more prevalent than when shoppers and consumers are talking to researchers and answering their questions. Recognise this human trait and make sure that your research agency does too.

Found this helpful? The Courtesy Response is No.13 in a series of cognitive biases - take a look at No.14 - The Decoy Effect.

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About Phillip Adcock

My name is Phillip Adcock: I have more than 30 years of human behavioural research and analysis, and have developed a unique ability to identify what it is that makes people psychologically and physiologically 'tick'.

Would you like to know more about how shoppers and consumers think? Download my FREE guide now. Alternatively, check out, where there are more FREE downloads available there. Or why not simply email me with what's on your mind?

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Phillip Adcock

Phillip Adcock CMRS
Psychology & Behaviour
Change Consultant

Phillips Signature

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