Ben Franklin Effect

What is the Ben Franklin Effect?

The Ben Franklin Effect is kind of like a trick our brain plays on us. It happens when we do something nice for someone else and then end up liking them more because of it. Now, you might think it would be the other way around—that we would like people more if they did nice things for us. But it’s not quite that simple. The effect was named after Benjamin Franklin because he once used this concept to win over someone who didn’t like him very much.

When we do a favor for someone, our brain tries to figure out why we did it. Most of the time, the brain decides that we did the favor because we actually liked the person, to begin with. It’s a way of thinking that might not be 100% right but makes us feel good about what we did. Psychologists call this a ‘cognitive bias’—which is a sort of mistake our minds make that can change how we see things and make decisions.

How Does the Ben Franklin Effect Affect Us?

Whether we notice it or not, the Ben Franklin Effect touches different parts of our everyday life. Check out these situations where it pops up:

  • Friendships: Let’s say someone in your class asks if they can borrow a pencil, so you lend them one. Later, you might feel like you’re buddies with that person. Why? Because you helped them out, your brain thinks you must like them.
  • Workplace: Imagine a situation where a colleague asks for your help with a report. After you’ve helped, you might start thinking they’re a pretty good coworker—even if they haven’t done anything for you yet. That’s your brain putting the Ben Franklin Effect into action.
  • Charity: When you decide to spend your Saturday helping out at a local food bank, later on, you might feel more passionate about fighting hunger. This is because you gave your time and effort, which makes your brain believe you really care about the cause.
  • Politics: Let’s say you help put up flyers for a political candidate. The simple act of helping them starts to make you believe in their ideas more strongly. That’s because you’ve put work into their campaign, which makes you more committed to it in your mind.

Scenario Example:

Think about being in a book club where it’s your turn to bring snacks. You go to the store, buy snacks, and bring them to the meeting. It’s a little bit of work, but you do it anyway. The next time you go to the book club, you might feel more involved and like you’re a big part of it. Your kind action of bringing snacks has made your brain think, “Hey, I must really enjoy this club since I’m helping out.”

Dealing with the Ben Franklin Effect

Here’s how you can be smart about this bias and not let it mess with your head too much:

  • Think about your reasons when you’re doing someone a favor. Do you genuinely like them, or are you just trying to get them to think you’re nice?
  • Keep an eye out to see if you’re starting to like someone only because you did them a favor. That’s the Ben Franklin Effect trying to sneak up on you.
  • Make sure to help people but also let others help you too. Relationships are best when everyone is both giving and receiving help—it keeps things real and balanced.

Related Biases and Concepts

Aside from the Ben Franklin Effect, there are other biases and ideas that mess with how we think and behave:

  • Confirmation Bias: This is when we only pay attention to stuff that supports what we already think or believe. It’s like ignoring any evidence that tells us we might be wrong.
  • Reciprocity Norm: This is an unwritten rule that says we should help people who have helped us in the past. It kind of pushes us to do good things for those who’ve been nice to us before.
  • Commitment and Consistency Bias: When we choose to stand for something or make a promise, we really don’t like to go back on our word. So we keep acting in the same way to show that we’re sticking to our guns.

Why is it Important to Understand the Ben Franklin Effect?

Understanding the Ben Franklin Effect is crucial because it can trick us into liking someone or something more than we otherwise might. Knowing about this effect helps us judge our feelings more accurately. If you’re aware of why you’re starting to like someone after you’ve done them a favor, you might stop and think, “Do I really like this person, or is it just because I lent them my pencil?”

It’s especially significant when making big life choices like choosing friends, picking a job, or supporting a cause. If we’re not careful, the Ben Franklin Effect could lead us to make decisions that aren’t based on what we truly believe or feel. When we know about it, we can make sure that the connections we make and the things we do line up with our real feelings and values. It helps in creating genuine friendships, and professional relationships, and in making decisions that we won’t regret later on.


So, what have we learned? The Ben Franklin Effect is a curious quirk in our thinking that makes us like people a bit more after we do them a favor. But here’s the scoop: by knowing about this effect, we can watch out for it and make sure our feelings and actions are true to what we really think and feel. This knowledge helps us build friendships and relationships that are honest and strong, and helps us live a life that’s guided by our true choices and beliefs. It’s important to remember that understanding our brains can lead us to better decisions and more authentic connections with the people around us.