- The “Ben Franklin effect” is a psychological phenomenon that explains why people actually like you more when they do you a favor.
- The effect is named after Ben Franklin, who supposedly used it to win over someone who disliked him.
- This theory is featured in David McRaney’s book “You Are Not So Smart,” which exposes common biases that influence our everyday-thinking.
- Researchers say the “Ben Franklin effect” could be a form of cognitive dissonance, where people assume they like someone they are helping out.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
No one likes to feel like a mooch.
Which is why asking someone to do you a favor — proofread your résumé, walk your dog, loan you $20 because you forgot this was a cash-only restaurant — can be so stressful.
But if you’re stressing because you feel like the person helping you out will find you annoying and like you less, don’t. There’s a psychological phenomenon commonly known as the “Ben Franklin Effect” that explains why people wind up liking you more when they do you a favor.
David McRaney, author of the book “You Are Not So Smart,” explains how the phenomenon got its name on YouAreNotSoSmart.com. Supposedly, Benjamin Franklin had a hater — someone he considered a “gentleman of fortune and education” who would probably become influential in government.
In order to recruit the hater to his side, Franklin decided to ask the man if he could borrow one of the books from his library. The man was flattered and lent it; Franklin returned it one week later with a thank-you note.
The next time they saw each other, the man was exceedingly friendly to Franklin and he said they stayed friends until the man died.
We naturally want to like the people we help
When psychologists tested the Ben Franklin effect in 1969, they found the effect really did hold water. The small study gave volunteers the opportunity to win money.
One-third of the volunteers were approached by a secretary who said that the psychology department had paid for the study and funds were running out. They asked the volunteer to return the payment. One-third were approached by the experimenter and told that he himself had paid for the study and funds were running out, and asked the volunteer to return the payment. The final third were allowed to keep their money.
Results showed that volunteers liked the experimenter most when they’d done him the favor of returning his money, and least when they’d gotten to keep their money.
In other words, the researchers concluded, doing someone a favor makes us like that person more. The researchers suspected that the Ben Franklin effect works because of “cognitive dissonance:” We find it difficult to reconcile the fact that we did someone a favor and we hate them, so we assume that we like them.
We assume people ask for our help because they want to be friends
Another psychologist conducted a similar, small study on the Ben Franklin effect in the United States and Japan.
Participants in both countries ended up liking another person who was presumably working on the same task more when he asked for help completing a project than when he didn’t. Interestingly, however, they didn’t like that person more when the experimenter asked them to help that person.
The psychologist behind this study, Yu Niiya of Hosei University in Tokyo, therefore suggests that the Ben Franklin effect isn’t a result of cognitive dissonance. Instead, she says it happens because the person being asked for help can sense that the person asking for help wants to get chummy with them and in turn reciprocates the liking.
This phenomenon, called reciprocity of liking, refers to people’s tendency to like people who like them. In other words, you can get people to both like you and do you a favor if you help them first. This principle can be applied in a range of settings, including dating and the workplace.
Meanwhile, Jerry M. Burger and colleagues at Santa Clara University conducted three experiments in 2007 on how reciprocal small favors can result in friendships. In one study of 105 undergraduate students, the researchers found that participants were more likely to comply with a request (like walking up a flight of stairs or sharpening a pencil) after they’d received an unexpected favor (like having a free bottle of water brought to them).
As Robert Cialdini, a professor emeritus of psychology and marketing at Arizona State University and the author of “Influence,” told the Harvard Business Review in 2013, you can subtly remind the person helping you that they can return the favor later. Instead of saying, “no big deal,” Cialdini recommended saying something like, “Of course; it’s what partners do for each other.”
Regardless of the specific mechanism behind the Ben Franklin Effect, the bottom line is that you shouldn’t freak out every time you ask someone to lend a hand. In fact, you can deploy your requests for help strategically, à la Franklin, to win over detractors.