Why do we like someone more after doing them a favor?


Benjamin Franklin effect

, explained.

What is the Benjamin Franklin effect?

The Benjamin Franklin effect describes how doing a favor for someone can actually make us feel more positively towards that person. The phenomenon is named after Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America, who wrote about the concept in his autobiography. 

Where this bias occurs

Imagine you have a co-worker, Alice, whom you don’t particularly like. You’ve had some disagreements in the past and you generally don’t have a good impression of her. One day, Alice asks for your help with a project she’s working on and you agree to assist her, even though you’re not thrilled about it. 

As you work together on the project, you find that Alice is appreciative of your assistance and is friendly and grateful. You see her dedication and hard work and you start to understand her perspective and skills better. As you continue to collaborate, you gradually start to develop a more positive opinion of Alice. 

Over time, you realize that you actually enjoy working with her and that your initial negative feelings have turned into a more favorable impression. This shift in your attitude towards Alice is an example of the Benjamin Franklin effect. By doing Alice a favor and working together on the project, you’ve come to like her more, despite your initial reservations. 

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Individual effects

On a personal level, the Benjamin Franklin effect can significantly influence how we perceive and interact with others. When we do a favor for someone, even if we initially had no strong feelings toward them, we tend to become more inclined to like and trust that person. This creates a cycle of goodwill, fostering stronger and more positive relationships. 

Imagine a teenager who, during a phase of rebellion, consistently challenges and opposes their parents’ viewpoints. In an attempt to bridge the growing gap between them, the parent actively seeks their child’s help to edit some photos from a recent family holiday, an area which the teenager knows a lot about. Doing their parents this favor triggers a shift in the teenager’s attitude and they find themselves more open to considering their parents’ viewpoints. By subtly employing the Benjamin Franklin effect, the parent transforms a challenging relationship into one of mutual respect.  

What’s interesting about the Benjamin Franklin effect is its potential to influence not only our perceptions of other people, but also our self-perception. When individuals engage in a positive action, such as doing a favor for someone they are at odds with, it simultaneously alters their attitude toward that person and creates a sense of self-justification. The person doing the favor rationalizes their behavior by convincing themselves that they must genuinely like the other person since they went out of their way to help them. 

Ultimately, the Benjamin Franklin effect highlights the intricate relationship between actions and attitudes and demonstrates how seemingly small acts of kindness can have a profound impact on individual perceptions and social dynamics. When applied respectfully, it can be an effective tool for building more harmonious relationships in various everyday contexts.

“He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged”

– Benjamin Franklin

Systemic effects

When applied to larger systems and social structures, the Benjamin Franklin effect can have significant implications across a range of contexts. At this level, the positive outcomes that we see at an individual level are amplified, with each act of kindness acting as a catalyst for the next one.  

Let’s look at the example of workplace relations. In the example above, Alice’s request for help resulted in a more positive relationship between you and your new co-worker. Now imagine what would happen to your workplace’s culture if everyone was encouraged to ask others for help. As more and more colleagues develop positive feelings toward each other, you notice a significant improvement in the overall workplace atmosphere. In these contexts, the Benjamin Franklin effect can help build trust among team members, resulting in better communication and increased productivity. 

Within larger groups or communities, asking people to perform a small favor can help foster a culture of cooperation and feelings of solidarity. Say, for example, a local charity is planning a community fundraiser. The organisation may send out a survey to local residents asking them for their input on what the event may look like or what the funds should be used for. As a result of doing the charity a favor, the residents may feel more positively towards the organisation and their cause. 

Finally, in political contexts, representatives can employ the Benjamin Franklin effect to garner support and build trust with potential voters. For example, political parties often ask volunteers to distribute leaflets or to go door-to-door canvassing for them during the run up to elections. While these volunteers may not have had a negative view of the political group beforehand, they are more likely to continue supporting them and promoting their campaign after doing the party a favor.

How it affects product

The Benjamin Franklin effect suggests that people tend to develop more favorable opinions towards someone or something they have previously helped or performed a favor for. In the highly competitive market of selling products and services, this simple, free, and effective cognitive tool can help businesses improve customer brand loyalty and overall sales. 

Have you ever ordered a product online, had it delivered, and then received an email requesting your feedback? While monitoring customer satisfaction is important for maintaining high standards, asking buyers to provide feedback can also help companies build brand loyalty. Before you bought the product, you probably didn’t feel any particular connection to the company or seller. However, if you did the company the favor of leaving positive feedback, you might find yourself buying from them again in the future.  

Equally, in the world of product development, individuals who are asked to provide feedback or suggestions for product improvement may become more invested in the product’s success. This creates a positive feedback loop, where increased involvement leads to a sense of ownership and a desire to see the product thrive. As a result, users are more likely to continue supporting and promoting the produce. This process can be seen when brands engage product testers who often develop brand loyalty as a result of the favors they do for the company. 

Why it happens

The Benjamin Franklin effect is counterintuitive in that it challenges our common assumptions about the direction of causality in social interactions. While we may believe that our attitudes always determine our behaviours—for example, I like my new co-worker so I’m going to help them get settled into their new job—the Benjamin Franklin effect suggests that, in certain circumstances, the opposite may be true. 

Many argue that the underlying mechanism behind the Benjamin Franklin effect is cognitive dissonance. This is our brain’s way of avoiding conflicting beliefs and attitudes because it makes us feel uncomfortable. When we do a favor for someone, it creates a psychological discomfort if we don’t genuinely like that person. To reduce this tension, our brain rationalizes our actions by making us believe that we must like that person if we’ve done something nice for them. Even if we don’t actively dislike the person before we do them a favor, our brain still goes through the same process to justify our positive behaviour. 

This mechanism highlights the powerful and sometimes surprising ways in which our actions can shape our feelings and perceptions, even if we are consciously unaware of the connection. To understand this process further we need to look at self-perception theory, an account of attitude formation developed by American psychologist Daryl Bem in 19671. According to this theory, our brains function as external observers, consistently monitoring our actions and subsequently devising explanations for them. These explanations then shape our beliefs about ourselves and other people. In other words, when we have no existing attitude towards something or someone due to lack of experience, we observe our own behavior and conclude what attitudes must have caused our actions.  

As humans, we unconsciously strive to be consistent with our actions, commitments, and beliefs across time, a phenomenon known as commitment bias. In his book Influence: The Psychology Persuasion2, Robert Cialdini explains how the Principle of Commitment and Consistency plays a central role in maintaining our sense of identity and self-image. If we have just done someone a favor, our inclination moving forward is to act towards them in the same positive way. This helps us to maintain consistency in the way we view ourselves and our actions. Making decisions based on our previous behavior is our brain’s way of helping us to navigate our complex world.

“Once people make a decision, take a stand or perform an action, they will face an interpersonal pressure to behave in a consistent manner with what they have said or done previously”

– Dr. Robert Cialdini

Why it is important

At its core, the Benjamin Franklin effect transforms adversaries into allies, and can serve as a potent tool for conflict resolution and relationship building. By leveraging this cognitive bias, individuals can navigate tense situations and overcome misunderstanding.  

In professional contexts, such as negotiations and teamwork, the Benjamin Franklin effect can be used strategically to achieve positive outcomes. In our personal lives, asking others to do us a favor can help strengthen our closest relationships and develop new connections. Individuals who understand that positive actions can contribute to a more favorable perception of oneself by others can use this knowledge to de-escalate disagreements and soften hostilities. 

Essentially, the Benjamin Franklin effect can be thought of as a Trojan Horse for building relationships and dealing with conflict. That is, we might not realise someone is trying to build a bridge with us until we’ve already done them a favor and changed our attitude towards them. So, while the Benjamin Franklin effect may have positive outcomes for both parties involved, it’s important to acknowledge that the process is a form of subtle manipulation. The hard part is figuring out whether someone is asking you for a favor simply because they need help, or because they want you to like them.

How to avoid it

Understanding the Benjamin Franklin effect can help us make better informed decisions and avoid being manipulated by other people. To avoid falling into the trap of liking someone or a company just because you’ve done them a favor, it’s important to critically assess your feelings and motives, and ensure that your preferences actually align. Take a moment to decide if your actions, and those of the people around you, are driven by genuine goodwill or if they are merely a strategy to manipulate feelings or opinions. By staying true to your emotions and motivations, you can navigate social interactions more effectively and make decisions that better reflect your values and preferences. 

There are many instances when the Benjamin Franklin effect can be leveraged for good causes. Imagine you’re a teacher dealing with a challenging group of students who are disengaged in their work. By asking the students to do you a favor, such as distributing papers or tidying the classroom, you may be able to affect a change in their attitude toward you and foster more positive connections with your students. Similarly, as we saw in the earlier example of Alice, asking someone who you don’t particularly get along with to do you a favor can help to transform a tense relationship into a new friendship. 

Before using the Benjamin Franklin effect, however, it's important to think carefully about the type and size of favor you ask someone to do for you, especially if you don’t know the person very well. It’s unlikely that a new co-worker who you don’t see eye to eye with is going to give you a lift to the airport early on a Sunday morning when you next go on vacation. Be realistic about what you can expect that person to do for you and make your request relevant to your relationship. Most importantly, reflect on whether you would be willing to do the favor for the other person if you were in their position. Start small and simple to avoid your request backfiring on you. 

In some circumstances, understanding and leveraging the Benjamin effect can be an effective tool for enhancing collaboration, reducing friction, and promoting a positive and productive working environment. Other times, it can be used as a device to manipulate people into liking someone or something, even if they aren’t consciously aware of it. By assessing the situation and thinking carefully about the possible intentions behind the favor request, you can decide whether it’s in your best interests to follow through with the gesture or to politely decline.

How it all started

There’s no better place to start than with the man who first observed the phenomenon, Benjamin Franklin. While serving in the Pennsylvania Assembly, Franklin received significant criticism from one of his fellow legislators3. However, rather than responding with animosity, Franklin decided to ask his adversary to do him a favor. 

His strategy involved reaching out to his colleague to ask if he could borrow a rare book from the person’s private collection. His opponent agreed and lent Franklin the book. A short time later, Franklin returned the book and expressed his gratitude for the kind gesture. At their next encounter in the assembly, the individual who had previously spoken ill of Franklin actually greeted him with warmth and smiles. Eventually, this former political enemy not only became an avid supporter of Franklin, but also a close friend. 

When Franklin asked his adversary to do him a favor, this created a sense of cognitive dissonance for his opponent because his actions contracted his negative feelings towards Franklin. In order to resolve this dissonance, the opponent changed his attitude towards Franklin. 

Two centuries later, the scientific exploration of the Benjamin Franklin effect began with a seminal study by Jon Jecker and David Landy in 19694. The authors already knew that individuals performed favors for people that they already liked or held in high esteem. What they wanted to know, however, was whether it was possible that a person could come to like a stranger if they performed a favor for them. They hypothesised that ‘under certain circumstances, when an individual performs a favor for another person, his liking for that person will increase’ and then set about proving their theory.  

In their experiment, students were invited to participate in an intellectual contest run by one of the researchers in which they could win sums of money. Once the competition was over, the participants who had ‘won’ money were split into three groups: group one were asked directly by the researcher to return the money on the grounds that he had used his own personal funds and was now running low; the second group were asked by a secretary to return the money because the psychology department funded the winnings and were now running low on funds; and the third group were not approached at all. 

Following the return of the money, all three groups were asked how much they liked the researcher. The results showed that the group who were asked to return their winnings directly by the researcher ended up liking him most. In other words, direct requests for a favor can increase likeability. In contrast, the group who were asked by the secretary to return the money rated the researcher lower than the group who were not approached, suggesting that indirect requests for a favor decrease likeability. 

Jecker and Landy’s study built upon Leon Festinger’s Theory of Cognitive Dissonance (1957) and previous studies which explored how a person’s own actions towards other people influenced the way in which they felt about them. However, while this earlier research explored negative feelings (disliking) towards others, Jecker and Landy took their investigation in a new direction, dealing with behavior that leads to an increase in positive feelings (liking). 

Example 1 – Do Us a Flavor

Cast your mind back to 2012… do you remember seeing Lay’s Potato Chips’ ‘Do Us a Flavor’ campaign? The clue was in the title; in a cunning play on words, Lay’s asked its consumers to do them a favor by suggesting what the chip’s next flavor should be. To increase public engagement with the competition, Pepsico (Lay’s parent company) set up a Facebook page where chip fans could submit their suggestions. The person with the winning flavor would win USD$1 million or 1% of the chip flavor’s sales for that year. 

The ten-month campaign ran yearly between 2012 and 2017 and yielded remarkable results. In the first year, Lay’s received 3.8 million submissions and the winning chip flavor, Cheesy Garlic Bread, drove up sales by 8% in the three months following the competition5. Over the five years that the campaign ran, Lay’s saw a 12% increase in their overall sales. 

While Cheesy Garlic Bread flavor may have been really popular among consumers, Lay’s strategy to get its audience to do the company a favor had a clear impact on public engagement with the brand. 

Example 2 – The price is right

When it comes to selling products, research suggests that getting a potential customer to do the salesperson a small favor can actually help seal the deal. In a study carried out by Simon Blanchard, Kurt Carlson, and Jamie Hyodo6 in 2016, the authors applied the Benjamin Franklin effect to customers shopping for an item for which the price could be negotiated, such as vintage furniture or a car. 

One group of customers was offered only a discount, while the other group was offered a discount and asked to do the salesperson a favor, such as recommending the store to a friend. The researchers found that the probability of customers accepting the deal increased when the seller also asked them for a favor, what they called ‘the favor request effect’. In other words, when consumers do a favor for the salesperson, they feel that the interaction is reciprocal.

So why does the favor request effect work in this context? The authors note that when customers attempt to negotiate the price of an item they usually do so with a competitive ‘me versus them’ approach. The buyer wants to get the most bang for their buck and thinks that they are going to need to fight to get a good deal. However, by adding a favor into the equation, the salesperson is able to alter the customer’s perception of the transaction so that the prospective buyer sees the negotiation as less competitive and more reciprocal. 


What it is

The Benjamin Franklin effect describes how doing a favor for someone can actually make us feel more positively towards that person. The phenomenon is named after Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America, who wrote about the concept in his autobiography. 

Why it happens

The Benjamin Franklin effect is the brain’s effort to resolve the cognitive dissonance we experience when we do a favor for someone we don’t particularly like. In order to rationalize our behaviour, we convince ourselves that we must like the person otherwise we would never have done them the favor. This mechanism highlights the powerful and sometimes surprising ways in which our actions can shape our feelings and perceptions, even if we are consciously unaware of the connection.

Example #1 - Do Us a Flavor

In 2012, Lay’s potato chips launched a campaign called ‘Do Us a Flavor’ where they asked customers to suggest the chip’s next flavor. In the first year of the competition, the winning flavor drove up sales by 8% and over the campaign’s five-year lifespan, overall sales increased by 12%. Lay’s strategy to get its audience to do the company a favor had a clear impact on public engagement with the brand.

Example #2 - The price is right

A 2016 study found that getting a potential customer to do the salesperson a small favor—such as recommending the store to a friend—increases the likelihood that the buyer will accept a deal. Known as ‘the favor request effect’, this approach alters the customer’s perception of the price negotiation so that they view it as a reciprocal deal rather than a battle to get the best price. 

How to avoid it

Depending on the circumstances, the Benjamin Franklin effect can be either constructive or manipulative. Understanding the bias is important not only for using in effectively in our personal and professional lives, but also for avoiding falling into the trap of liking someone or a company just because you’ve done them a favor. Awareness of the Benjamin Franklin effect can help us make better informed decisions and avoid being manipulated by other people. 

Related TDL articles

Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance describes when we avoid having conflicting beliefs and attitudes because it makes us feel uncomfortable. To relieve this tension, we tend to reject, debunk, or avoid new information. Read this article to learn more about what cognitive dissonance is, why it happens, and how we can avoid it.

Commitment Bias

Commitment bias describes our tendency to remain committed to our past behaviors, even if they do not have desirable outcomes. Read this article to learn more about what the commitment bias is, why it happens, and how we can avoid it.


1.     Bem, D. J. (1967). Self-perception: An alternative interpretation of cognitive dissonance phenomena. Psychological Review, 74(3), 183. 

2.     Cialdini, R. B. (2006). Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. Harper Business. 

3.     Matthews, D. (2023, October 11). The Ben Franklin Effect: The Unexpected Power of Asking for a Favor. Resolve. https://www.resolve.blog/articles/the-ben-franklin-effect

4.     Jecker, J. & Landy, D. (1969). Liking a Person as a Function of Doing Him a Favor. Human Relations, 22(4), pp. 371–378. https://doi.org/10.1177/0018726769022004

5.     Franklin, K. (2018, March 26). Lay’s Increases Sales by Asking Customers to “Do Us a Flavor”. Digital Data Design Institute at Harvard. https://d3.harvard.edu/platform-digit/submission/lays-increases-sales-by-asking-customers-to-do-us-a-flavor/

6.     Blanchard, S.J., Carlson, K.A., & Hyodo J.D. (2016). The favor request effect: Requesting a favor from consumers to seal the deal. Journal of Consumer Research, 42(6), 985–1001. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1093/jcr/ucw005

About the Author

Dr. Lauren Braithwaite

Dr. Lauren Braithwaite is a Social and Behaviour Change Design and Partnerships consultant working in the international development sector. Lauren has worked with education programmes in Afghanistan, Australia, Mexico, and Rwanda, and from 2017–2019 she was Artistic Director of the Afghan Women’s Orchestra. Lauren earned her PhD in Education and MSc in Musicology from the University of Oxford, and her BA in Music from the University of Cambridge. When she’s not putting pen to paper, Lauren enjoys running marathons and spending time with her two dogs.

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