Benjamin Franklin effect: what it is and how it influences our relationships

Our common sense makes us think that we are doing favors to the people we love and that we refuse those who do not like us. But is this really the case? Or do we love those people we have done favors for?

The Benjamin Franklin effect suggests that, really, it’s not that we are kind to those we love, but that we love those with whom we get along.

This curious psychological phenomenon has a lot to do with another very famous one: cognitive dissonance. Below we find out how the Benjamin Franklin effect occurs, its relationship to cognitive dissonance, and some situations where it can occur.

    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 based on how we have behaved with them.

    Basically, this effect describes the situation where, if we do a favor to someone who initially didn’t like us or who was just indifferent to us, they will start to fall in love. While our logic would make us think that we are nice to the people we love, the effect is that the relationship is the other way around: action comes first and perception comes first.

    We have the origin of this curious effect in the very figure of Benjamin Franklin, known to be the inventor of the lightning rod and to be one of the founding fathers of the United States.

    The story goes that, when Franklin was in the Pennsylvania Legislature, there was a political rival who had already spoken out against. Although we do not know the name of this opponent of Franklin, we do know from Ben’s testimony that he was a man of fortune and education. Benjamin Franklin was uncomfortable with the soggy pitch as he couldn’t move the ball with his usual grace.

    Franklin, instead of offering the opponent a favor, asked for it. Knowing that he was a cultivated man and had a library of rare volumes, the ingenious Ben asked his political rival to lend him one of his books. The adversary immediately lent him the book, flattered to have been recognized as a scholar. Franklin returned the book to him a week later, with a note in which he was greatly thanked for the favor.

    When Franklin and his opponent met again in the Legislature, the gentleman spoke to him, which he had never done before, and he did so with great politeness. It is from there that a strong friendship is formed between the two men, which will last until his death. In fact, this anecdote is a practical demonstration of one of Benjamin Franklin’s great phrases: “Someone who has done you a favor before is more likely to do you a favor than someone who owes you.”

    Cognitive effect and dissonance

    What is the explanation for such a counterintuitive phenomenon? The explanation for this effect seems to lie in the concept of cognitive dissonance. In short, cognitive dissonance refers to the situation of internal disharmony in our system of beliefs, values, and emotions that we are experiencing. when we have two opposing or conflicting thoughts.

    For example, if we consider ourselves anti-racist but it turns out that we have discovered that our favorite music group has made discriminatory comments towards people of one race, then we will enter into an internal conflict: if we continue to listen to the group, despite its racism? Should we stop listening to them, even though their music is our favorite?

    The relationship between the Benjamin Franklin effect and cognitive dissonance it is a human need to want to please everyone. If we ask a favor from a person who feels a certain hostility towards us, he finds himself 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 did us a favor.

    If he had acted in a perfectly consistent manner, this person would not have done us a favor, but because of his need to please others, he did to us. To avoid getting into too intense an internal conflict, his mind chooses to use arguments consistent with his conduct. It is as if you were fooling yourself into thinking, “If I have done someone a favor it’s because I really love them, then that person loves me because I have done them a favor.”

      Real life examples

      Cognitive dissonance is believed to be behind the explanation of why the Benjamin Franklin effect occurs. The mind, with the intention of avoiding too tense internal conflict, tries to find justifications for its conduct, In this case, to have gotten along with someone who, in principle, did not like him. However, is it possible that it is the opposite, that is, hating someone because we behaved badly with them?

      Really yes. A fairly clear example of this is armed conflict. When a war breaks out, the soldiers who participate in it and have to kill those on the enemy side try to find explanations that justify the conflict and its actions. In other words, that is to say they try to protect themselves from the mental stress that would be generated by having to kill and the maxim that killing is wrong comes into conflict.

      To avoid inconsistencies, soldiers protect themselves on grounds of religion, nationalism or freedom, seeing them as valid arguments to defend their actions and position.

      By going into more everyday and less bellicose contexts, we can observe the Benjamin Franklin effect in personal and professional situations. For example, when you are in an office and you have to help a colleague whom we do not have much sympathy for. In this same context, our mind will try to look for explanations that justify this action, Although it could come down to the fact that it was the boss who forced us.

      As for the couple, it is possible that our boyfriend or spouse is asking us to do them a favor that we just don’t like. Even if we disagree, as we want, we do as he asks us. If we hadn’t done it, it wouldn’t just be him or her who would drop the typical phrase “if you loved me you would have done it”, but we would be the ones who, deep in our minds, would resonate. this sentence over and over again.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Tavris, C. and Aronson, E. (2007). Mistakes were made (but not by me): why do we justify stupid beliefs, bad decisions and harmful acts. Orlando, Florida: Harcourt.

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