The Ben Franklin Effect

by | Aug 13, 2019


Ben Franklin was a polymath and all-around pretty amazing guy. He helped draft the Declaration of Independence, was the first Postmaster General, was a scientist, inventor, politician and diplomat. According to, “Benjamin Franklin is the only founding father to have signed all four of the key documents establishing the U.S.: the Declaration of Independence (1776), the Treaty of Alliance with France (1778), the Treaty of Paris establishing peace with Great Britain (1783) and the U.S. Constitution (1787).”

He also discovered a very interesting psychological effect, now known as the Benjamin Franklin Effect (“BFE”): He found that asking someone for a favor makes them like you more.

The Benjamin Franklin Effect: Asking someone for a favor makes them like you more.

Franklin wrote in his autobiography that he had heard of the maxim that “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged.” He also noted in his autobiography that at one point in his career he was cross-ways with a fellow legislator. He took resolve his differences by asking his rival to borrow a book:

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.

Modern research has confirmed that the BFE is real. We do tend to like people more if we do them a favor. Why is this the case?

The leading theory centers on cognitive dissonance, which is the mental pain and discomfort we feel when trying to hold two opposing thoughts in our head. When we do a favor for someone we dislike we have opposing thoughts: (a) I dislike this person, but (b) I am doing this person a favor and you tend to do favors for people you hold in esteem. Our brains tend to reduce the dissonance by subconsciously concluding that the person must not be so bad. So, we like them more.

A second theory is that of reciprocation. We understand that if we do someone a favor that they “owe” us and will likely reciprocate in the future. Reciprocation is one of the basic elements of relationships and thus asking for a favor creates a basic relationship building block.


  1. Do you still like that BF quote given the use of the word “perusing”? 🙂

  2. Maybe now I will have friends, I’m forever in your debt John.

  3. Thanks John


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