Review of The Catalyst: How to change anyone’s mind by Jonah Berger

Jonah Berger’s latest book on the science of persuasion takes a slightly different tack to many by focusing on removing the obstacles to behaviour change more than positive acts of persuasion. The book covers five themes which make the acronym REDUCE: Reactance, Endowment, Distance, Uncertainty, and Corroborating Evidence.

The book is a good read on the psychology of influence, showing that standard messaging strategies are often ineffective and demonstrating that sometimes the best interventions are the most counter-intuitive. Jonah Berger cites three examples early in the book:

  • Instructing jurors to ignore inadmissible evidence, draws their attention to it
  • Alcohol prevention messages can encourage people to drink more
  • Focusing on the bad health effects of smoking can create interest in smoking

He discusses in detail that people do not like to be told what to do (a phenomenon called reactance) and that letting people discover and take ownership of the realities of their behaviour can be more effective than proscriptive messaging. With discussions of Brexit and Roger’s Diffusion Theory this is a wide-ranging and easy-to read look at the challenges of behaviour change and is well worth your time.

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