No. 33 How We Fall Victim to Restraint Bias

No. 33 How We Fall Victim to Restraint Bias

Ever snapped up a last-minute offer by the tills? A small chocolate bar? A packet of chewing gum? That's impulse buying, aka Restraint Bias.

Restraint bias is the tendency for shoppers to overestimate their ability to control impulsive behaviour. An inflated self-control belief may lead to greater exposure to temptation, and increased impulsiveness.

The Psychology of Restraint Bias

We've all been there - a friend telling us of an impulse purchase that we ridicule and state we would never be so foolish as to 'fall for it'. But that's the thing with Restraint Bias, we always think we're good at resisting temptation when it isn't around...

Shoppers believe they can control natural urges more than they can in practice. Furthermore, his belief is strengthened by not feeling the urge at the moment and not remembering how powerful the urge can be.

Urges are enhanced by the availability of stimulants, such as the urge to eat being increased by the availability of food. Shoppers who are exhibiting restraint bias and believe they can withstand urges are more likely to allow temptation to be put in their way.

Why we fall victim to Restraint Bias

The underlying problem is in the different mental state between thinking about being in an urge state and actually being in the urge state.

  1. Timing is everything - If you want to help shoppers to stop doing something, work on them when they have the urge to do it, not when they aren’t interested.
  2. Temptation - To persuade shoppers to buy something, you can put temptation in their way, as they will be less able to defend against it than they think they can.
  3. Don’t tempt yourself - If you want to avoid buying something, recognise the temptations and avoid them in-store and online do not put temptation in your way.


Shoppers are often more tempted to buy by emotional advertising than they realise. So, if you’re selling something that’s genuinely desirable, you can use good old temptation.

Restraint Bias is cognitive bias no.33 at play in our purchase-journey decision-making. Check out no.34 - Salience Bias.

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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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