The cognitive biases we experience on an individual level reverberate within our institutions and social systems. These irrational tendencies become embedded in institutional psychology and large scale global conflicts. Negotiation between laborers and management shapes wages, working conditions, and company profits. Even further, negotiation between warring countries determines the fate of many. Thus, barriers to negotiation like reactive devaluation can have life-altering consequences.
For example, amidst decades of violence and unrest in the Gaza strip, researchers Ifat Maoz, Andrew Ward, Michael Katz, and Lee Ross applied the theory surrounding reactive devaluation to real-life conflict resolution between Israel and Palestine.2 Participants in the study were either neutral or pro-Israel and were provided with a peace treaty supposedly authored either by the Israeli Labor Party or by a Palestinian organization. Even though the peace treaty was the same in both cases, both pro-Israel and neutral participants viewed the proposal as more favorable to Palestine when connected to Palestinian authorship.
It is normal to make such an inference, to assume that the creator of a proposal is thinking of their own interests. However, when the researchers probed further into the reasoning behind these perceptions they found more elaborate cognitive mechanisms at play. The pro-Israel participants construed the meanings of treaty points differently based on the authorship. The researchers stated:
For example, pro-Israeli subjects reading the Israeli-authored plan construed “limited militarization” of the Occupied Territories to mean something akin to the presence of a typical city police force, whereas pro-Israelis who read the Palestinian-authored plan construed it to be something closer to the presence of a national army.
In contrast, neutral subjects did not tend to construe meanings differently. Here we can see how opposition heightens the effect of reactive devaluation. The variable meanings we personally attach to the words of others, charged by our own position, can cause misconstruals and rejection of concessions that would ultimately benefit us. Reactive devaluation can alter public opinion, support of a policy, and political judgments at the highest levels.