Johnny behavioural science mnemonics: EAST and MINDSPACE


It’s too late to improve Keanu Reaves’ acting, but there’s still hope for using behavioural economics to improve other outcomes. Here are a couple of ‘what to remember about behavioural economics’ mnemonics I thought I’d share, from my recent reading of David Halpern’s Inside the Nudge Unit.

According to Halpern, the man behind the British government’s Behavioural Insights Team, E.A.S.T. is “a mental heuristic of mental heuristics” – a shortcut to remember how to cater for the mental shortcuts people commonly live their lives by. Organisations wanting to introduce cues or prompts to influence people’s behaviour, whether in government or in business, can be more effective if they remember:

  • Easy – make the behaviour easy for people to do
  • Attractive – make the behaviour attractive, something people would want to do
  • Social – tie the behaviour sought of an individual into something others are also doing
  • Timely  – prompt people towards the behaviour at the most opportune time.

Sounds simple but that’s an awful lot of research and testing boiled down nicely.

The other one I wanted to share is M.I.N.D.S.P.A.C.E. It’s been around since 2010 and seem to remember even using it myself in one project a few years back (where the team I was part of played around with some behavioural interventions, with the help of an academic behavioural economist). This one, says Halpern, was “to help busy policymakers think about what might influence people’s behaviour in a given context.” The framework is a series of very broad insights / truths established by social psychology. They may seem like statements of the obvious, but it is useful to have them as a checklist to make sure you have covered the main bases when thinking through the possible effects of any piece of public communication or public activity:

  • Messenger – we are very influenced by who is communicating the information
  • Incentives – we respond to incentives using mental shortcuts, like ‘loss aversion’
  • Norms – we are strongly influenced by what we think others are doing
  • Defaults – we tend to revert to established behaviour options
  • Salience – our attention is drawn to what is new and seems relevant to us
  • Priming – we are influenced by sub-conscious cues
  • Affect – our emotional associations can powerfully affect our actions
  • Commitments – we try to be consistent with our public promises and we seek to reciprocate what others do for us
  • Ego – we act in ways that make us feel better about ourselves.

M.I.N.D.S.P.A.C.E. is more fully explained in the Institute of Government report here: Mindspace Report. Hope that’s useful.

Halpern’s Inside The Nudge Unit is a fascinating read, by the way, full of practical examples of nudges in action – what worked and what didn’t and why. It’s a success story, really – how the Behavioural Insights Team won over decision-makers and influencers in government to making policy have more impact by taking account of how real people actually behave. It has been a quiet revolution. This has taken off massively over the past 5-6 years, but it is still in its infancy. Halpern can currently (October / November 2016) be heard on the BBC Radio iPlayer, for people in the UK, as part of Bronwen Maddox’s Radio 4 series The Pursuit of Power, talking about “the power of nudge”: The Power of Nudge.



Published by Simon Riley

Qualitative researcher in the UK. I listen to people from all walks of life and think about what it all means. I work for leading brands, media companies and government.

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