PROFESSOR PAUL DOLAN – Use scientific evidence to help change what you do and maximise health and happiness.

When Paul Dolan isn't teaching his MBA at the London School of Economics, appearing on his latest TV show demonstrating his incredible understanding of the human psyche, or writing another best selling book on 'happiness by design, he is happy to share and discuss the behavioural science model known as MINDSPACE.

Before the Behavioural Insights Team was created, some of its members were working at the Institute for Government, where they were commissioned by the Cabinet Office to author a report on influencing behaviour with academics from the London School of Economics and Imperial College.

The MINDSPACE report was the result, and helped to make the case for the establishment of the Behavioural Insights Team at the heart of the UK Government.

The MINDSPACE report continues to be used by the Behavioural Insights Team as a framework to aid the application of behavioural science to the policymaking process.

The report sets out nine of the most robust influences on our behaviour, which are captured in the simple mnemonic – MINDSPACE.

Paul Dolan is an author of the "MindSpace" report published by the UK Cabinet Office which seeks to apply lessons from the psychological and behavioural sciences to social policy.


Professor Dolan has over 100 peer-reviewed publications which cover many topics including behavioural science, subjective wellbeing, equity in health and health valuation. He currently holds the position of the Chief Academic Advisor on Economic Appraisal for the UK Government's Economic Service. He is also a member of National Academy of Sciences Panel on Wellbeing and of the Measuring National Wellbeing Advisory Forum.

In addition he is a visiting Professor at Imperial College London and an associate of the Institute for Government.

I have been fortunate to work with Paul on a number of key wellness and behavioural challenges, one of our projects being supporting the mayor of London's health charter working with employees of some of London's largest employers. During this time whilst Paul was fascinated with NLP, I was equally fascinated by his model MINDSPACE, an influencing policy used by the UK's Cabinet Office to understand decision making when influencing behaviour and public policy.

I realised immediately that in my opinion there were a lot of similarities and parallels between MINDSPACE and NLP, NLP being an influencing strategy and MINDSPACE focusing on influencing behaviour when it comes to public policy.

It is for this reason and this reason alone I decided to include a behavioural science module on this course and that behavioural science module is MINDSPACE. The similarities between MINDSPACE and some parts of the NLP model are really interesting with both strategies focusing on influencing others.



Influencing behaviour is central to public policy. Recently, there have been major advances in understanding the influences on our behaviours, and government needs to take notice of them. This report aims to make that happen.

For policy-makers facing policy challenges such as crime, obesity, or environmental sustainability, behavioural approaches offer a potentially powerful new set of tools. Applying these tools can lead to low cost, low pain ways of “nudging” citizens – or ourselves – into new ways of acting by going with the grain of how we think and act. This is an important idea at any time, but is especially relevant in a period of fiscal constraint.

Recently, many books and reports have highlighted the potential benefits that behavioural approaches can bring to public policy. This report is not just an overview of theory; it addresses the needs of policy-makers by:

  • Condensing the relevant evidence into a manageable “checklist”, to ensure policy-makers take account of the most robust effects on our behaviour
  • Demonstrating how behavioural theory can help meet current policy challenges, including full case studies of its application in the UK
  • Showing how government can build behavioural theory into its current policy-making practices
  • Exploring important issues around the need for public permission and the role of personal responsibility This report has emerged from many discussions with senior civil servants and ministers. All indicated that there was a real appetite to absorb and apply the latest thinking, in order to equip the civil service to meet the pressing challenges ahead. But they also felt that more help was needed to translate this appetite into action. In practice, how can these ideas actually help government make policy better? They are interesting effects but, fundamentally, “So what?” This report tries to answer the “so what?” question for policy-makers. MINDSPACE: a checklist for policy-makers The vast majority of public policy aims to change or shape our behaviour. And policy-makers have many ways of doing so. Most obviously, they can use “hard” instruments such as legislation and regulation to compel us to act in certain ways. These approaches are often very effective, but are costly and inappropriate in many instances. So government often turns to less coercive, and sometimes very effective, measures, such as incentives (e.g. excise duty) and information provision (e.g. public health guidance) – as well as sophisticated communications techniques.

Discussion document – not a statement of government policy

Influencing behaviour is central to public policy, and government can draw on a potentially powerful new set of tools

Policy-makers are interested, but need help in applying insights in practice

Why, then, is there a need to change anything? Behavioural theory suggests two reasons. First, the impact of existing tools such as incentives and information can be greatly enhanced by new evidence about how our behaviour is influenced (some of which has already been incorporated into government communications). Second, there are new, and potentially more effective, ways government could shape behaviour.

Tools such as incentives and information are intended to change behaviour by “changing minds”. If we provide the carrots and sticks, alongside accurate information, people will weigh up the revised costs and benefits of their actions and respond accordingly. Unfortunately, evidence suggests that people do not always respond in this "perfectly rational‟ way.

In contrast, approaches based on “changing contexts” – the environment within which we make decisions and respond to cues – have the potential to bring about significant changes in behaviour at relatively low cost. Shaping policy more closely around our inbuilt responses to the world offers a potentially powerful way to improve individual wellbeing and social welfare.

With this in mind, we set out nine of the most robust (non-coercive) influences on our behaviour, captured in a simple mnemonic – MINDSPACE – which can be used as a quick checklist when making policy.

MINDSPACE is a checklist of influences on our behaviour for use when making policy


We are heavily influenced by who communicates information


Our responses to incentives are shaped by predictable mental shortcuts such as strongly avoiding losses


We are strongly influenced by what others do


We "go with the flow‟ of pre-set options


Our attention is drawn to what is novel and seems relevant to us


Our acts are often influenced by sub-conscious cues


Our emotional associations can powerfully shape our actions


We seek to be consistent with our public promises, and reciprocate acts


We act in ways that make us feel better about ourselves

Meeting policy challenges

We show how this framework can help tackle challenges in three major areas of policy: crime and anti-social behaviour; pro-social behaviour, such as voting and volunteering; and healthy and prosperous lifestyles. For each policy area we give case studies of innovative evidence-based interventions, including:

  • How the logic of gang membership was used to combat gang violence (Norms)
  • How inertia helped us save more for retirement (Defaults)
  • How giant bananas reduced littering (Salience)
    We also show how MINDSPACE can generate new approaches to specific policy problems.


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