MINDSPACE and User Experience (Part 1)

The MINDPSACE model (Messenger, Incentives, Norms, Defaults, Salience, Priming, Affect, Commitment, Ego) was the brainchild of Professor Paul Dolan, created to inform behavioural change polices for the government. Behavioural economics and consumer behaviour shows that by changing the choice architecture (the design of different ways in which choices can be presented to consumers, and the impact of that presentation on consumer decision-making), we have the capability to nudge people and society towards better social outcomes. In fact it turns out our behaviour is a lot more ‘automatic’ and somewhat less ‘reflective’ than we previously thought.

The MINDSPACE model was originally developed as a policy-makers checklist to help them think about how to frame behavioural change and think through the key psychological heuristics that could inform social change. The model is broken down and explained below:

Messenger – We are heavily influenced by who communicates information.

In a classic study of obedience by Stanley Milgram, 65% of participants complied when told to administer a 450V shock to a complete stranger by an experimenter in a perceived position of authoritative power (Milgram, 1963).

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

There are generally no downsides to free incentives. We tend to automatically code something free as a positive gain or reward. In a study participants were given the choice between a 1¢ Hershey’s chocolate and 15¢ Lindt Truffle. When presented with this choice the majority picked the more expensive Lindt Truffle. However when these prices were dropped to 0¢ and 14¢ respectively, the demand for the Hershey’s chocolate rose by a staggering 42%, meaning 69% of people now chose the cheaper option (Shampanier, Mazar & Ariely, 2007).

Norms – We are strongly influenced by what others do.

When a hotel room sign was hung on people’s room doors asking hotel guests to recycle their towels as a benefit to the environment, only 35.1% followed suit. The sign was then changed to reflect the following message: “the majority of guests reuse their towels”, towel recycling rose to 44.1%. The sign was further changed to include “guests of this room”… recycling peaked at 49.3% (Goldstein, Cialdini & Griskevicius, 2008).

Defaults – We go with the flow of a pre-set of options.

A large national railroad in Europe changed its website to automatically include seat reservations with ticket purchases (at an additional cost of €1-€2), unless the customer actively unchecked a box on the online booking form. The proportion of tickets including reservations jumped from 9% to 47%, earning the railroad an additional €40 million annually (Goldstein, Johnson, Herrmann & Heitmann, 2008).

Salience – Our attention is drawn to what is novel and seems relevant to us.

Research shows that when participants are exposed to enhanced, bright packaging that stands out from the rest this increases its salience and captures our attention. Neuroscientists tracked the eye-movements of consumers as they chose between snack items. They found that when presented with two options (M&M’s vs. Skittles) the packaging that was enhanced and more salient, in this case the Skittles, tended to be chosen over the less captivating packaging despite the M&M’s being the preferred treat of the participants (Mormann, M. M., Navalpakkam, V., Koch, C., & Rangel, A., 2012).

Priming – Our actions are often influenced by subconscious cues.

In a classic study conducted by Tversky & Kahneman (1974), participants were asked to estimate the number of African nations in the UN. They were asked to spin a wheel of fortune, based on the number spun the individual was asked if the number of nations was above or below the number they spun. Results showed that participants, regardless of their guess, were influenced by the number spun and varied their answers based on those numbers (Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D, 1974).

Affect – Our emotions are powerful in shaping our actions.

Research shows that people tend to be affected by emotional changes as well as emotive imagery. A study looking at participants’ energy consumption showed when participants were told they were above the average consumption rate they decreased their energy consumption, and when they were told they were below the average they increased their energy consumption rate. However, when the norming values were removed and replaced with the image of a sad face, all participants lowered their average energy consumption (Shultz, Nolan, Cialdini, Goldstein and Griskevicious, 2007).

Commitment – We seek to be consistent with our public promises and reciprocate acts.

When we put time and effort into something we are motivated to keep pursuing it despite it bringing potential losses. A recent study has shown that people who invest more in their car and spend more of their hard earned money on it tend to drive the car longer distances and more often (Ho, Png & Reza, 2014).

Ego – We act in ways that make us feel better about ourselves.

We tend to engage in behaviours that create, maintain or build on our sense of worth. Research shows that people are more likely to donate money when they are seen or labelled as charitable people. By activating this self-concept people will act in accordance with this to keep their charitable image alive (Bekkers & Wiepking, 2010).

Overall the model presents a framework that can be used to help shape any type of behavioural change. Although it was originally designed to help inform public policy, its application is much broader and very relevant in marketing and design strategies. In the next article in this series we will discuss how MINDSPACE can be applied to UX and the benefits it presents.