23 April, 2016

The Benjamin Franklin Effect

The Ben Franklin effect is a proposed psychological phenomenon, a form of cognitive dissonance, whereby a person who has performed a favour for someone is likelier to perform another favour for that person than they would be if they had received a favour from that person.  

This effect is named after Benjamin Franklin, who is quoted 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.”  This is explained with an example in Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography regarding the animosity of a rival legislator when they both served in the Pennsylvania legislature in the 18th century. He wrote, “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 returned 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.”

Cognitive dissonance theory states that people change their attitudes or behaviour to resolve dissonance between their thoughts, attitudes, and actions.  In this case, the dissonance is between the subject’s negative attitudes to the other person and the knowledge that they did that person a favour.  They rationalise that since they did him a favour, they must like him and adjust their attitude accordingly.

The effect when you do a favour for someone who dislikes you is that they feel beholden to you for that kindness.  The ego is manifest and it increases their dislike due to this ‘burden’ places upon them.

In terms of marketing and closing a deal, this can be done as simply as asking to borrow the other part’s pen to write out something for his.  They have done you a small, insignificant favour, but it makes them feel good about themselves and they ‘like’ you.  The client is thus more likely to be favourable.  This is also a useful tool for resolving tension.


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