If you are familiar with social psychology you might have heard of the Ben Franklin effect. The Ben Franklin effect states that if you do a person a favor, you are more likely to do so again. The name comes from Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the United States of America. He noticed this during an incident with a rival legislator. In his autobiography he quotes

“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 favor 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 favor. 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 Ben Franklin effect also know as the Benjamin effect can be explained in two ways. The first is through cognitive dissonance. In the above case, the initial attitude of the rival legislator towards Benjamin was negative. However after doing him a favor(lending the book) he experienced dissonance and change his prevailing attitude to a more a positive one. Another explanation is operant conditioning. The rival legislator performed a behavior i.e. doing a favor by lending the book and the behavior was positively reinforced through Benjamin strongly expressing his sense of favor. This increased the probability that the rival legislator will favor Benjamin Franklin in the future as well.

Before I conclude, I would like to add the possibility that both cognitive dissonance and operant conditioning may occur simultaneously, or in some cases only either would occur. This could shed light on the fact that some people are favored more than others.

Hence the Ben Franklin effect is demystified.

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