The Ben Franklin effect is the phenomena that if a person does a favor toward another person, there is an increased likelihood that the person will do another favor for that person. The same is true for acts of harm. A person who has inflicted harm on another person is more likely to repeat an act of harm.

It is theorised this is to relieve cognitive dissonance and the gap between feelings towards the person and the act.

How can the Ben Franklin effect best be explained, what research has been done about this, is it adequately explained in cognitive dissonance theory or other theory?

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    $\begingroup$ concept courtesy of a dear friend :) $\endgroup$
    – user10932
    Commented Nov 5, 2013 at 3:10
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    $\begingroup$ @user3747 see if you can answer this. cogsci.stackexchange.com/questions/4179/… $\endgroup$
    – user10932
    Commented Nov 6, 2013 at 12:59

1 Answer 1


The Benjamin Franklin Effect is generally cited as being an example of cognitive dissonance, which is when your brain struggles to reconcile your beliefs with your actions.

So let’s say your beliefs about your job are that you deserve to be paid a higher rate, you deserve to be treated more respectfully by your employer and your skills are being wasted in your current role

For every day that you go to work in that same job, your brain has to deal with cognitive dissonance. Your brain is thinking, “you believe this, but you do that—the two don’t gel. What’s going on?”

Dissonance means literally “lack of harmony between musical notes.” In this case, it’s a lack of harmony inside your brain—the thing that controls everything you think and do! So you feel uncomfortable, or uneasy. You carry around a lot of tension. Your body doesn’t like this, and neither does your brain.

David McRaney describes it like this:

“When you experience this arousal it is as if two competing beliefs 
 are struggling in a mental bar fight, knocking over chairs and smashing bottles 
 over each other’s heads. It feels awful, and the feeling persists until 
 one belief knocks the other out cold.”

To compensate, your brain changes your beliefs—after all, your actions can’t be undone. You’ve already gone to work. You’re sitting at your computer, banging your head on the desk. But your thoughts can change. Your beliefs about yourself can change. Because your brain is malleable.

So all of a sudden you find yourself rationalizing your behavior.

Jecker and Lendy verified the phenomenon in a study that challenged participants to an intellectual contest. The winners were subsequently either:

1. Asked to return their prize money by the researcher 
   because he had been using his own money and was running short
2. Asked by a secretary to return their prize money 
   because it was from the department and budget was running low
3. Allowed to keep their prize money (i.e. not approached).

Everyone was then surveyed to see how they liked the researcher.

Consistent with the Franklin effect, group 1 rated him higher than group 3 showing that a personal request for a favor increases likeability.

In addition, group 2 rated the researcher lower than group 3 suggesting that an impersonal request decreases likeability.

Dale Carnegie's book, How to Win Friends and Influence People where the request for help is explained as a subtle but effective form of flattery.

As Carnegie suggests, when we ask a colleague to do us a favor, we are signalling that we consider them to have something we don't, whether more intelligence, more knowledge, more skills, or whatever.

This is another way of showing admiration and respect, something the other person may not have noticed from us before. This immediately raises their opinion of us and makes them more willing to help us again both because they enjoy the admiration and have genuinely started to like us.

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    $\begingroup$ The way you describe this makes me think you are actually Benjamin Franklin. $\endgroup$
    – Taal
    Commented Nov 8, 2013 at 9:57
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    $\begingroup$ I just realized the irony of my above comment. $\endgroup$
    – Taal
    Commented Nov 8, 2013 at 10:11

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