This psychological phenomenon has to do with the need to please others.
Our common sense makes us think that we do favors for people we like and that we deny to those who we do not like. But is this so? Or do we like those people who we have done favors for?
The Benjamin Franklin effect suggests that it is not really that we are helpful to those we like, but that we like those we have liked.
This curious psychological phenomenon has a lot to do with another very famous one: cognitive dissonance. Let’s discover below how the Benjamin Franklin effect occurs, its relationship with cognitive dissonance, and some situations where it can happen.
What is the Benjamin Franklin effect?
The Benjamin Franklin effect, also called Ben Franklin, is a psychological phenomenon that involves a change in our perception of someone depending on how we have behaved with him or her.
This effect describes the situation in which, if we do a favor to someone who initially did not like us or simply was indifferent, they will begin to like us. Although our logic would make us think that we are nice to those people that we like, the effect comes to say that the relationship is inverse: first comes action and then perception.
The origin of this curious effect is found in the very figure of Benjamin Franklin, known for being the inventor of the lightning rod and being one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.
History tells that, when Franklin was in the Pennsylvania Legislative Assembly, there was a political rival who had once spoken against him. Although we do not know the name of that opponent of Franklin, we know from the testimony of Ben himself that he was a man of fortune and education. Benjamin Franklin was very uneasy about this animosity towards him, and for this reason, he decided to win over his rival in an ingenious, intelligent, and curious way.
Franklin, instead of offering the opponent a favor, asked him. Knowing that he was an educated man and that he owned a library with rare volumes, the resourceful Ben asked his political rival to lend him one of his books. The opponent lent him the book immediately, flattered that he had been recognized as a learned man. Franklin returned the book to her after a week, with a note thanking her for the favor.
When Franklin and his opponent met again in the Legislative Assembly, the gentleman spoke to him, something he had never done before, and he did it with great politeness. It was from then on that a solid friendship was forged between the two men, which would last until his death. This anecdote is the practical demonstration of one of Benjamin Franklin’s great phrases: “It is more likely that someone who has already done one before will do you another favor than not one who owes it to you.”
The effect and cognitive dissonance
What is the explanation for such a counterintuitive phenomenon? It seems that the explanation for this effect occurs in the concept of cognitive dissonance. In short, cognitive dissonance refers to the internal disharmony of our belief system, values , and emotions that we suffer when we have two opposite or conflicting thoughts.
For example, if we consider ourselves anti-racists, but it turns out that we have discovered that our favorite music group has made discriminatory comments towards people of one race. We will enter into an internal conflict: should we continue to listen to the group, despite their racism? Should we stop listening to it, even if his music is our favorite?
The relationship between the Benjamin Franklin effect and cognitive dissonance has to do with the very human need to want to please everyone. If we ask a person who feels a particular hostility towards us for a favor, he is in an emotional dichotomy. On the one hand, there is the feeling of aversion towards us, but on the other, there is the fact that he has made us a favor.
If he had acted in an entirely consistent manner, that person would not have done us any favors, but because of his need to please others, he has done so for us. To avoid entering the too intense internal conflict, your mind chooses to use arguments consistent with your behavior. It is as if he were deceiving himself thinking the following: “if I have done someone a favor, it is because I like him. Therefore, I like him because I have done him a favor”.
Examples in real life
Cognitive dissonance would be behind the explanation of why the Benjamin Franklin effect occurs. The mind, trying to avoid an internal conflict that is too tense, works to find justifications for its behavior, in this case, having behaved well with someone who, in principle, did not like him. However, is it possible that this happens oppositely, that is, hating someone because we have misbehaved with it?
Really if. A fairly clear example of this is armed conflict. When a war occurs, the soldiers who participate in it and have to kill those on the enemy side try to find explanations that justify the conflict and their actions. That is, they try to protect themselves from the mental tension that would be generated by having to kill and the maxim that killing is the wrong conflict.
To avoid inconsistency, soldiers hide behind reasons related to religion, nationalism, or freedom, seeing them as valid arguments to defend their actions and stance.
Going to more daily and less warlike contexts, we can observe the Benjamin Franklin effect in personal and work situations. For example, when you are in an office, and you have to help a colleague whom we do not like very much. In that same context, our minds will try to find explanations that justify this action, although this can be summed up as the fact that the boss has forced us to do so.
As for the couple, our boyfriend or spouse may ask us to do him a favor that we just don’t like. Although we do not agree, as we want, we do what you ask. If we did not, it would not only be he or she who would give us the typical phrase “if you loved me, you would have done it,” but we would be ourselves who, in the depths of our mind, would make this phrase resonate again and again.