Friday, 1 March 2013

THE THINKER: Benjamin Franklin & "the Favour"

The designation of “genius” is much overused in society; however, the inventor, statesmen, politician, and satirist Benjamin Franklin was one of those rare individuals who truly warranted the title.  Described as the First American and immortalized as one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, the new Republic relied upon his ambassadorial skills to woo the French aristocracy into an alliance with the United States that became an essential component for victory in the Revolutionary War.  On his work in France, the scholar Leo Lemay remarked that Franklin was “the most essential and successful American diplomat of all time" (“Benjamin Franklin”).

Following some folk wisdom that he had learned, a major part of the American Statesman’s political strategy was based on the maxim, “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another than he whom you yourself have obliged” (Aronson, 288). Testing the theory, in 1736, on an antagonistic member of the political opposition, Franklin recorded the experiment as follows:

            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 (Aronson, 288).

Over two hundred and forty years later, this casual experiment was empirically tested by Jon Jecker and David Landy (Aronson, 288).  A group of students who participated in a mock task were later asked, as a favour, to return the money they had received for participating; they were told: this would help refund a financially strapped experimenter who claimed he was using his own funds to finance the project (Aronson, 288).  Another group of students were not asked to return the money they had received.  When all the participants were later required to fill out a questionnaire rating the experimenter, those “who had been cajoled into doing a special favour for the experimenter found him most attractive” (Aronson, 288).

In his book The Social Animal, Elliot Aronson explains the psychological perspective at work when one undertakes doing a favour for another person:  “In effect, we will say to ourselves, ‘Why in the world did I go to all of this effort (or spend all of this money, or whatever) for Sam?  Because Sam is a wonderful person, that’s why!’”(287).

"Excuse me, Ma'am...Would you do me a favour?"

Aronson, Elliot.  The Social Animal. 4th Edition.  New York: W.H. Freeman &
            Company, 1984.

“Benjamin Franklin.”  World of Influence.  Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. 2002.   
            Web. 25 Feb. 2013.

No comments:

Post a Comment