What is Reactive Devaluation and How It Affects Influence

Who puts forward an idea or proposal can have a significant effect on our judgment and decision-making, and it can also downgrade persuasiveness of our ideas. This is especially likely when we are dealing with competitive or antagonistic groups because people tend to reject ideas merely because they come from a competitor or opponent. This phenomenon is known as reactive devaluation.

Reactive devaluation has two important implications. First, when making your own decisions, you will be predisposed to downgrade favorable ideas or proposals merely because they were made by the other party. Second, when you’ll be trying to spread your idea or influence an opposing group, your idea may be downgraded merely because it was put forward by you; in such cases, it is better to rely on Trojan influence strategy.

Research on Reactive Devaluation

In a 2002 study by Ifat Maoz, Andrew Ward, Michael Katz, and Lee Ross, the experimenters asked Israelis and Palestinians if they would support a specific peace plan.[1] The researchers used an Israeli peace plan and asked both Israelis and Palestinians to express their opinion. Then they also used the same Israeli proposal only they told other subjects that it was the Palestinian proposal. They did the same with a Palestinian peace plan. The results showed how critical can be the source of the message: Israelis would devalue their own peace proposal if it were labeled as the Palestinian. The same with Palestinians—they would devalue their own peace proposal merely because it would be labeled as the Israeli peace plan.

Of course, reactive devaluation is not the monopoly of the holy land (although it is faithfully practiced there)—it thrives everywhere: Democrats vs. Republicans, labor vs. management, environmentalists vs. industrialists, or west side vs. east side street gangs.

Reactive Devaluation and Decision-Making

Reactive devaluation is especially important when you’re making decisions involving your opponents, adversaries, rivals, or some other antagonistic group. In such cases, the main danger is that you may reject proposals that are favorable to you merely because they come from the other party.

One basic method for guarding yourself against the reactive devaluation is to find someone who doesn’t know the source of an idea or proposal. Ask such person how he or she evaluates the idea without telling him or her who is the source of that idea. If his or her judgment differs noticeably from yours, you might suspect that your evaluation is tainted by the reactive devaluation.

Trojan Influence Strategy

Reactive devaluation can be a major roadblock to effective influence. In essence, if the other party distrusts you already, then they will downgrade your ideas or proposals merely because you made it; conversely, they are more likely to embrace the same proposal if it comes from someone they trust.

Strategically, if you want to influence an antagonistic group, it might be best if your idea comes not from you or other outsiders but from their own people. So you’ll want encourage them to “discover” your proposal themselves. To achieve that, you’ll need to identify key people in that group, give them an ownership of your idea so that they would think they came up with it themselves, and then let them spread that idea in their group.


[1] Ifat Maoz, Andrew Ward, Michael Katz, and Lee Ross, Reactive Devaluation of an “Israeli” vs. “Palestinian” Peace Proposal, Journal of Conflict Resolution, 46, 515-546 (2002).