December 22, 2013, by Helen Whitehead

Advent calendar #22: Influencing people

I was intrigued when reviewing the materials for our free online course Sustainability, Society and You (which starts on on January 6th) to see that there are a set of principles by which the UK Government aims to influence people’s behaviour. The approach is called ‘MINDSPACE’ (Dolan et al., 2010), which is an acronym for the nine principles that the Cabinet Office considers to be critical for influencing individual behaviour. The nine principles are:

  1. Messenger (people are heavily influenced by who communicates information).
  2. Incentives (our responses to incentives are shaped by ‘heuristics’ such as strongly avoiding losses).
  3. Norms (we are strongly influenced by what others do).
  4. Defaults (we “go with the flow” of pre-set options).
  5. Salience (our attention is drawn to what is novel and seems relevant to us).
  6. Priming (our acts are often influenced by sub-conscious cues).
  7. Affect (our emotional associations can powerfully shape our actions).
  8. Commitments (we seek to be consistent with our public promises, and reciprocate acts).
  9. Ego (we act in ways that make us feel better about ourselves).

These nine principles are designed to be applicable to a range of domains – not just sustainable behaviours. Although the nine principles remain within the boundaries of social marketing, the MINDSPACE approach is quite a sophisticated and evidence-based strategy for impacting sustainable behaviours.  We’ll be looking at this in detail in a later week of the course.

Whether you’re interested in being an influencer yourself, or just intrigued to see how the Government is trying to influence us, the MINDSPACE paper is well worth a read!


Dolan P, Hallsworth M, Halpern D, King D and Vlaev I. (2010) Mindspace: Influencing Behaviour through Public Policy. London, U.K.: UK Cabinet Office & Institute for Government. Available at

Posted in Advent calendarMOOC