The Benjamin Franklin Effect: The Psychology of Favors

Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, was not only a scientist and politician, but also an observer of human nature. One of his insights concerns the psychology of doing favors, a phenomenon known as the Benjamin Franklin effect. In this article I discuss the Benjamin Franklin effect, the phenomenon that people like others more after they have done them a favor.

How Benjamin Franklin Turned an Enemy into a Friend

In 1737, when Franklin was again nominated for the position of Clerk of the United States Congress, one of his political opponents spoke out strongly against his nomination, resulting in the loss of the position to another candidate. Despite this man's open hostility, Franklin decided to take an unexpected step. He wrote in his autobiography:

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.

There is something surprising about what happens in this situation. First of all, you might wonder why Franklin's rival accepted the request in the first place. Second, you may wonder why this rival subsequently came to like Franklin more. Let's look at explanations for both steps.

Why do they grant the favor?

Dale Carnegie, author of the bestseller How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936), offered an explanation for why Franklin's angry rival acceded to the request in the first place. Carnegie wrote that when we ask someone for a favor, we implicitly acknowledge that this person has something we do not have, such as greater intelligence, knowledge, skills, or resources. This can be seen as a form of admiration and showing respect, which the other person may not have noticed about us before. This process can make the other person's opinion of us more positive, making them more willing to help us in the future because they appreciate the admiration. This mechanism provides an explanation for why Franklin's rival responded positively to the request, as it conveyed a sense of appreciation and respect that potentially changed the relationship between them.

What makes them like the beneficiary more?

The fact that people come to like the person to whom they have done the favor more (the Benjamin Franklin effect) can be explained by the concept of cognitive dissonance. This is a psychological term that describes the discomfort people experience when their actions and beliefs are inconsistent. When someone does us a favor, he or she invests time, energy, or resources in us. This can lead to cognitive dissonance if the recipient does not like the favor giver. To reduce this dissonance, the receiver has two choices:

  1. Come to appreciate the favor giver
  2. Deny or minimize the favor

Most people choose to appreciate the favor giver, creating the Benjamin Franklin effect.

Examples of The Effect

The Benjamin Franklin effect can be recognized in various situations, such as:

  • In the workplace: Exchanging favors between colleagues can lead to stronger team spirit and greater cooperation.
  • In education: Students who help their teacher with small tasks, such as picking up materials or checking homework, are likely to appreciate the teacher more.
  • In personal relationships: Small acts of kindness, such as offering help or giving a compliment, can strengthen the bond between partners, friends and family members.


To my knowledge, some research has been done on the Benjamin Franklin effect, but not that much (see for example Jecker and Landy, 1969; Niiya, 2015). The research I saw did not seem to me to be direct tests of the effect. Nevertheless, I suspect the effect exists. If it does indeed exist, it is important to consider its ethics. Consciously provoking the effect, as Benjamin Franklin himself did, can be both ethical and unethical.

  • If you were to provoke behavior that primarily serves your own interests while harming the interests of others, this would be an unethical application. Imagine a salesperson knows that a customer doesn't really need a product or that the product doesn't best fit the customer's needs. Despite this knowledge, the salesperson decides to strategically use the Benjamin Franklin effect by asking the customer for a favor, such as completing a survey or participating in a feedback session, with the hidden goal of making the customer feel obligated . The salesperson then uses this sense of obligation to convince or “entice” the customer to purchase the product, even though it is not in the customer's best interest.
  • In Benjamin Franklin's example, it seems ethical to me. I think both he and his rival benefited from improving their relationship. And to the extent that Franklin's behavior could be called manipulative, it was a form of manipulation with no losers and two winners.