Coolidge Effect

Calvin Coolidge? Frank A. Beach? Lisbeth Jordan? Robert E. Whalen? Elliot Liebow?

Dear Quote Investigator: The scientific literature on animal behavior contains the term “Coolidge Effect” which apparently was inspired by a ribald anecdote about Calvin Coolidge and his wife Grace. Would you please explore the provenance of this term and the accompanying story?

Quote Investigator: An illuminating letter on this topic from University of California, Berkeley, Professor of Psychology Frank A. Beach appeared in the 1974 fourth edition of “Principles of General Psychology”. Beach asserted that he was responsible for the introduction of the term “Coolidge Effect” into the scientific literature. He said that “the neologism referred to an old joke about Calvin Coolidge” which he described as follows. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

The President and Mrs. Coolidge were being shown around an experimental government farm. When she came to the chicken yard she noticed that a rooster was mating very frequently. She asked the attendant how often that happened and was told, “Dozens of times each day.” Mrs. Coolidge said, “Tell that to the President when he comes by.” Upon being told, Coolidge asked, “Same hen every time?” The reply was, “Oh no, Mr. President, a different hen every time.” Coolidge: “Tell that to Mrs. Coolidge!”

Beach stated that he and co-worker Lisbeth Jordan researched the sexual behavior of rats in 1955. A male rat could copulate with a female a limited number of times before experiencing a period of exhaustion. Researcher Alan Fisher found that the introduction of a new female partner increased the number of encounters. Beach’s group replicated the findings of Fisher, and the results of his group were reported by Dick Whalen during the 1958 meetings of the Western Psychological Association. As a “silly joke” Beach told Whalen to refer to the phenomenon as the “Coolidge Effect” and to provide no further explanation for the term. The session chair Dave Krech also agreed to mention the term.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1974, Principles of General Psychology by Gregory A. Kimble, Norman Garmezy and Edward Zigler, Fourth Edition, Chapter 9: Motivation and Conflict, Letter from: Frank A. Beach, Date: January 4, 1974, Quote Page 249, The Ronald Press Company, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)