Ben Franklin effect
The Ben Franklin effect is a proposed psychological phenomenon: A person who has performed a favor for someone is more likely to do another favor for that person than they would be if they had received a favor from that person. An explanation for this would be that we internalize the reason that we helped them was because we liked them. The opposite case is also believed to be true, namely that we come to hate a person whom we did wrong to. We de-humanize them to justify the bad things we did to them.
It has been suggested that if soldiers who have killed enemy servicemen in combat situations later come to hate them, it is because this psychological maneuver helps to “decrease the dissonance of killing.” Such a phenomenon might also “explain long-standing grudges like Hatfield vs. McCoy” or vendetta situations in various cultures: “Once we start, we may not be able to stop and engage in behavior we would normally never allow.” As one commentator has put it, “Jailers come to look down on inmates; camp guards come to dehumanize their captives; soldiers create derogatory terms for their enemies. It’s difficult to hurt someone you admire. It’s even more difficult to kill a fellow human being. Seeing the casualties you create as something less than you, something deserving of damage, makes it possible to continue seeing yourself as a good and honest person, to continue being sane."
The Benjamin Franklin effect, in other words, “is the result of your concept of self coming under attack. Every person develops a persona, and that persona persists because inconsistencies in your personal narrative get rewritten, redacted and misinterpreted."
Franklin's observation of effect
Benjamin Franklin, whom the effect is named after, quoted what he described as an "old maxim" in his autobiography: "He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged."
In his autobiography, Franklin explains how he dealt with the animosity of a rival legislator when he served in the Pennsylvania legislature in the 18th century:
Having heard that he had in his library a certain very scarce and curious book, I wrote a note to him, expressing my desire of perusing that book, and requesting he would do me the favour of lending it to me for a few days. He sent it immediately, and I return'd it in about a week with another note, expressing strongly my sense of the favour. When we next met in the House, he spoke to me (which he had never done before), and with great civility; and he ever after manifested a readiness to serve me on all occasions, so that we became great friends, and our friendship continued to his death.
Jecker and Landy (1969) held a study in which students were invited to take part in a Q&A competition run by the researcher in which they could win sums of money. After this competition was over, one-third of the students who had “won” were approached by the researcher, who asked them to return the money on the grounds that he had used his own funds to pay the winners and was running short; another third were asked by a secretary to return the money because it was from the psychology department and funds were low; another third were not approached. All three groups were then asked how much they liked the researcher. The second group liked him the least, the first group the most – suggesting that a refund request by an intermediary had decreased their liking, while a direct request had increased their liking.
In 1971, University of North Carolina psychologists John Schopler and John Compere carried out the following experiment:
- They had their subjects administer learning tests to accomplices pretending to be other students. The subjects were told the learners would watch as the teachers used sticks to tap out long patterns on a series of wooden cubes. The learners would then be asked to repeat the patterns. Each teacher was to try out two different methods on two different people, one at a time. In one run, the teachers would offer encouragement when the learner got the patterns correct. In the other run of the experiment, the teacher would insult and criticize the learner when they messed up. Afterward, the teachers filled out a debriefing questionnaire which included questions about how attractive (as a human being, not romantically) and likable the learners were. Across the board, the subjects who received the insults were rated as less attractive than the ones who got encouragement.
In short, the subjects' own conduct toward the accomplices shaped their perception of them - "You tend to like the people to whom you are kind and dislike the people to whom you are rude."
Effect as an example of cognitive dissonance
This perception of Franklin has been cited as an example within cognitive dissonance theory, which says that people change their attitudes or behavior to resolve tensions, or "dissonance," between their thoughts, attitudes, and actions. In the case of the Ben Franklin effect, the dissonance is between the subject's negative attitudes to the other person and the knowledge that they did that person a favor. One science blogger accounts for the phenomenon in the following way: “Current self-perception theory tells us that our brains behave like an outside observer, continually watching what we do and then contriving explanations for those actions, which subsequently influence our beliefs about ourselves....Our observing brain doesn’t like it when our actions don’t match the beliefs we have about ourselves, a situation commonly referred to as cognitive dissonance. So, whenever your behavior is in conflict with your beliefs (for example if you do a favor for someone you may not like very much or vice versa, when you do something bad to someone you are supposed to care about), this conflict immediately sets off alarm bells in your brain. The brain has a clever response – it goes about changing how you feel in order to reduce the conflict and turn off the alarms."
It has been observed that the Ben Franklin effect can be very useful for improving relationships among coworkers.
In the sales field, the Ben Franklin effect can be employed “to build rapport with a desired client.” Instead of offering to help the potential client, a salesperson can instead ask the potential client for assistance: “For example, ask them to share with you what product benefits they find most compelling, where they think the market is headed, or what products may be of interest several years from now. This pure favor, left unrepaid, can build likability that will enhance your ability to earn that client’s time and investment in the future."
The Benjamin Franklin effect can also be observed in successful mentor-protege relationships. Such relationships, one source points out, “are defined by their fundamental imbalance of knowledge and influence. Attempting to proactively reciprocate favors with a mentor can backfire, as the role reversal and unsolicited assistance may put your mentor in an unexpected, awkward situation." The Ben Franklin effect was cited in Dale Carnegie's bestselling book How to Win Friends and Influence People. Carnegie interprets the request for a favor as “a subtle but effective form of flattery.”
- As Carnegie suggests, when we ask a colleague to do us a favour, we are signalling that we consider them to have something we don't, whether more intelligence, more knowledge, more skills, or whatever. This is another way of showing admiration and respect, something the other person may not have noticed from us before. This immediately raises their opinion of us and makes them more willing to help us again both because they enjoy the admiration and have genuinely started to like us.
One commentator has discussed the Ben Franklin effect in connection with dog training, thinking “more about the human side of the relationship rather than about the dogs themselves.” While trainers often distinguish between the impact of positive and negative reinforcement-based training methods on the dogs, it can also be relevant to “consider the effects that these two approaches may have upon the trainer. The Ben Franklin Effect suggests that how we treat our dogs during training influences how we think about them as individuals – specifically, how much we like (or dislike) them. When we do nice things for our dogs in the form of treats, praise, petting and play to reinforce desired behaviors, such treatment may result in our liking them more. And, if we use harsh words, collar jerks or hitting in an attempt to change our dog’s behavior, then...we will start to like our dog less."
- "Ben Franklin Effect". Changing Minds. Retrieved 15 December 2016.
- Becher, Jonathan (November 16, 2011). "Do Me A Favor So You'll Like Me: The Reverse Psychology of Likeability". Forbes. Retrieved 15 December 2016.
- McRaney, David. "The Benjamin Franklin Effect". You Are Not So Smart. You Are Not So Smart. Retrieved 15 December 2016.
- From The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, page 48 Archived January 18, 2015, at the Wayback Machine..
- Paul Henry Mussen, Mark R. Rosenzweig & Arthur L. Blumenthal (1979). Psychology: an introduction, p.403. University of Michigan. ISBN 0-669-01672-1
- Tavris, Carol; Elliot Aronson (2008). Mistakes were made (but not by me). Pinter and Martin. pp. 28–29. ISBN 978-1-905177-21-9.
- "The Ben Franklin Effect". Retrieved 15 December 2016.
- "Get Others to Like You: The Benjamin Franklin Effect". Manage Train Learn. Retrieved 15 December 2016.
- Dalton, Steve (January 17, 2014). "Harness the Ben Franklin Effect, Boost Your Career". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 15 December 2016.
- Jecker, John; David Landy (1969). "Liking a Person as a Function of Doing Him a Favor". Human Relations. 22 (4): 371–378. doi:10.1177/001872676902200407.
- Schopler, John; Compere, John S. (1971). "Effects of being kind or harsh to another on liking.". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 20 (2): 155–159. doi:10.1037/h0031689. ISSN 0022-3514.
- The Ben Franklin Effect: An Unexpected Way to Build Rapport: http://buildthefire.com/ben-franklin-effect/