The Ben Franklin effect is a proposed psychological phenomenon: a person who has already performed a favor for another is more likely to do another favor for the other than if they had received a favor from that person. An explanation for this is cognitive dissonance. People reason that they help others because they like them, even if they do not, because their minds struggle to maintain logical consistency between their actions and perceptions.
The Benjamin Franklin effect, in other words, is the result of one's concept of self coming under attack. Every person develops a persona, and that persona persists because inconsistencies in one's personal narrative get rewritten, redacted, and misinterpreted.
Benjamin Franklin, after whom the effect is named, 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.
The initial study of the effect was done by Jecker and Landy in 1969; 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:
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."
Results were mimicked in a more recent but smaller study by psychologist Yu Niiya with Japanese and American subjects.
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."
Psychologist Yu Niiya attributes the phenomenon to the requestee reciprocating a perceived attempt by the requester to ignite friendly relations. This theory would explain the Ben Franklin effect's absence when an intermediary is used.
Some have observed that the Ben Franklin effect can be useful for improving relationships among coworkers.
In the sales field, the Ben Franklin effect can be used to build rapport with a 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".
Psychologist Yu Niiya suggests that the Ben Franklin effect vindicates the theory of amae (). It states that dependent, childlike behavior can induce a parent-child bond where one partner sees themselves as the caretaker. In effect, amae creates a relationship where one person feels responsible for the other, who is then free to act immaturely and make demands.
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."
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."