Inspiration toolkit

Get inside people’s MINDSPACE

How a MINDSPACE analysis can help you understand and influence people

Exploring the gap between our perception of how we make decisions and the murky pool of biases and shortcuts that are often at work is one of the most interesting and fruitful areas of psychological research for marketers.

It’s clear that we are far from the fully rational utility maximisers of early economics. But it’s equally clear that we aren’t simply at the mercy of our environment. Instead, we exhibit signs of what Dan Ariely described as being ‘predictable irrational’. We do deliberate and calculate, but we are often unaware that these processes are influenced by heuristics – mental models that help us make sense of the mass of sensory inputs.

This much we know. The question is how do you identify these heuristics and anticipate when they may be at work in your audience?

Something we have found to be useful is the MINDSPACE model, which was originally created by the UK Institute of Government in 2010 to aid government policy making. It brings together nine of the most powerful heuristics to create a framework for thinking about – and changing – people’s behaviour.

Most recently we’ve used it in a wide-ranging project exploring the complex emotional states and decision-making processes of people suffering psoriasis and the way they interact with their healthcare professionals (HCPs).


Examples of the insights the framework produced included:



(Our responses to incentives are shaped by predictable mental shortcuts, such as strongly avoiding losses.)

Sometimes even a minute can make a difference to how people do their job. New drugs have transformed psoriasis treatment options, but these only tackled physical symptoms. The question was why, when many dermatologists recognised the need in patients, were patients not being offered the emotional support they needed? Lack of training and knowledge were powerful explanations, of course. But an underlying one was that, in an area of medicine where decades of practice had produced a highly standardised way of consulting and treating patients, many dermatologists simply didn’t have the time. For patients seeing up to 30 patients a day, “If you add only an extra 30-60 seconds to each patient that’s a whole extra hour a day and a hour that I am not getting paid for,” said a Canadian dermatologist.

In other words, the way patients are scheduled and the way doctors are remunerated can make even a seemingly small factor – like the few seconds it would take to enquire about a patient’s general wellbeing – into a powerful disincentive to change practice.


(We ‘go with the flow’ of pre-set options.)

Even though new treatments have made it possible, in some cases, to completely clear up debilitating skin problems, healthcare practice was still rooted in a time where the skin problems were considered untreatable. As a result, even when the need had moved to psychological support, HCPs continued, in many cases, to focus almost exclusively on physical appearance. If a patient had an outbreak, it was treated, if their skin was clear, the default kicked in and they weren’t regarded as being in need of treatment. “Dermatology is a very visible discipline, you treat what you see in front of you and assess the rest by asking the right questions,” said one dermatologist.


(Our acts are often primed by sub-conscious cues)

Over the course of our research, we found that many patients were quite aware of their unmet need for emotional support. So why didn’t they ask for it? The inherent power inequality of the doctor-patient relationship can be a contributing factor. They receive a timetabled summons to visit an expert who, in many cases, shows little or no interest in their wider lives and well-being, and seems to give little weight to their own observations of their condition. Everything about the structure of the interaction primes patients to close down and remain silent about how they feel, which can generate a gap in understanding that affects the course of future treatment. “I don’t even try now,” said one patient. “They’re not interested in what I think or what I want to say.”

These insights, along with many others gathered in the course of the project, helped us to bring an unprecedented level of insight into how a complex condition like psoriasis is and should be treated and to produce a set of tools that will help to promote positive behaviour change among patients, HCPs and drug companies alike.

For more on MINDSPACE and other research methods and models, read our Inspiration Toolkit. For more about our work on psoriasis, come and see us present at EPIC 2017 or check back in a few weeks for a report of our conference presentation.