The Benjamin Franklin Effect: How to Build Rapport by Asking for Favors

The Benjamin Franklin Effect


The Benjamin Franklin effect is a psychological phenomenon that causes people to like someone more after they do that person a favor. In the following article, you will learn more about this effect, and about how you can use it in order to build rapport with people.


The Ben Franklin Effect

Simply put, the Ben Franklin effect is a phenomenon where the act of doing a favor for someone, especially a person that you slightly dislike or feel neutral about, makes you like them more.

One study, for example, showed that when a researcher asked participants to return the money that they earned in an experiment, as a personal favor to him, they tended to rate him as more likable afterward. A different study on the topic found a similar effect, where asking someone for help with solving a puzzle made the helper feel closer to the person asking for help.

This phenomenon has generally been explained using cognitive dissonance theory. As one study says:

As long as a person likes the recipient of the favor, feels that he is deserving, or that he would probably return the favor, the person is able to offer himself ample justification for having performed the favor. There are instances, however, when an individual is ‘put on the spot’ and winds up performing a favor for someone he does not hold in high esteem, a complete stranger, or even someone he actively dislikes. In such instances, he has insufficient justification for performing the favor since he does not particularly like the person and has no reason to expect that the person would reciprocate the favor.

Accordingly, if an individual performs a favor for a person about whom he initially has neutral or negative feelings, he may come to like that person as a means of justifying his having performed the favor. This prediction is derived from the theory of cognitive dissonance… If one does a favor for a disliked person, the knowledge of that act is dissonant with the cognition that one does not like the recipient of the favor. That is, since one does not usually benefit persons whom one dislikes, the situation is dissonance arousing. One way in which a person might reduce this dissonance is to increase his liking for the recipient of his favor, i.e., come to feel that he was deserving of the favor.

– From “Liking a Person as a Function of Doing Him a Favour

Essentially, what this means is that when someone does you a favor, they need to justify it to themself. If they already like you, this isn’t a problem, but if they dislike you, they need to have a reason that can help them explain to themself why they are helping you.

The simplest explanation that someone can choose for why they would help you is that they must like you in some way. This justification works even if that wasn’t the case before they performed the favor, and its use is supported by other research on the topic, which shows that being kind to someone increases how much you like that person.

In addition, it’s important to remember that this effect isn’t limited just to people who dislike you:

Favors performed for persons about whom one has neutral or only moderately positive feelings might also create dissonance. This would be the case as long as the costs (in effort, time, etc.) involved in doing favors for such people lacked sufficient justification.

– From “Liking a Person as a Function of Doing Him a Favour

That is, as long as the favor is big enough in scope compared to how much the person performing it likes you, then the Ben Franklin effect should cause them to like you more if they perform that favor.


Historical origin

The name of this effect comes from a story in the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, who describes how he dealt with the animosity of a rival legislator.

Specifically, after hearing that his rival has a rare book in his library, Franklin wrote to his rival asking him if Franklin could borrow the book for a few days. The rival obliged, and a week later Franklin returned the book, with a letter expressing how much he liked it. The next time the two met, Franklin’s rival spoke to him with great civility and showed a willingness to help him in other regards, leading the two men to become good friends.

Franklin consequently referred to this effect as an old axiom, stating that:

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


How to take advantage of the Benjamin Franklin effect

At this stage, you already understand the basic premise of the Benjamin Franklin effect. Next, you will see a few tips, which are based on other research on the topic, that will help you take advantage of this effect as effectively as possible:

  • First, remember that the scope of the favor doesn’t matter as much as the favor itself. That is, in most cases the increase in rapport comes from the fact that the other person performs a favor for you, even if it’s relatively small. This is especially true if the other person dislikes you, rather than simply feels neutral or moderately positive towards you.
  • In addition, don’t be afraid to ask for help, since people often underestimate how likely other people are to help them. This bias occurs because when we seek help, we focus on the expected cost of helping us, while potential helpers focus on the perceived social cost of refusing a direct request for help (i.e. saying “no”), which most people want to avoid whenever possible.
  • You can take advantage of the effects of reciprocity, by performing a small favor for the other person, before asking them to perform a favor for you. Essentially, by performing a favor for the other person first, you make it less likely that they will refuse to help you later, even if they did not ask you for a favor in the first place. However, if you do this, make sure to perform the initial favor only a short amount of time before asking for a favor yourself, because the effects of reciprocity diminish over time.
  • Similarly, after asking them for a favor, you can perform a small favor in return, in order to increase the likelihood of them helping you if you ask for a favor again. Therefore, if you need to ask for a big favor, it’s sometimes better to start by asking for a small favor which you can reciprocate, before moving to the main request later on.

Most importantly, make sure to use common sense when taking advantage of this effect. This means that you should be realistic with regards to who you asking for favors, and with regards to what that favors you ask for.

In addition, don’t forget that how you ask for the favor is also important, and can have a significant effect on your success rates, though the best way to ask for a favor will vary in different scenarios. Overall though, in almost all cases, being kind and polite will get you the farthest, especially if your overall goal is to build rapport with the other person.


Summary and conclusions

  • The Benjamin Franklin effect is a psychological phenomenon that causes people to like someone more after they do that person a favor.
  • This happens because when you do someone a favor, your mind tries to justify it to itself by explaining that you must like that person, in order to avoid a state of cognitive dissonance.
  • As such, the Benjamin Franklin effect is most notable in cases where the person performing the favor either dislikes the person that they are helping, or feels neutral toward them.
  • When taking advantage of this effect, it’s important to remember that in general, the act of performing the favor is more important than the scope of the favor, so that even a small favor can lead to a significant increase in rapport.
  • You can increase the likelihood that someone will be willing to do you a favor by taking advantage of the effects of reciprocity, where performing a favor for the other person first makes them more likely to help you later.


The Difference between Knowledge-Telling and Knowledge-Building in Your Learning

Knowledge Telling versus Knowledge Building


When going over material that we’ve learned, most of us instinctively focus on knowledge-telling, which involves repeating the material in a rote manner, where we just go over it again and again until we feel that we remember it well enough. However, research shows that we can get better results by focusing on knowledge-building, which involves a more in-depth analysis of the material when we learn.

In the following article, you will learn about these two styles of learning, and about how understanding them can help you study more effectively.


Knowledge-telling vs. knowledge building

When going over material, either by yourself or when explaining it to others, there are two main learning styles that you can adopt:

  • Knowledge-telling: this involves going over the source material repeatedly, with only minor modifications each time.
  • Knowledge-building: this involves going beyond the rote repetition of the source material, and includes the use of techniques such as highlighting key points, restructuring various sections, and drawing connections between different parts of the material.

Research on the topic shows us two important facts about how people study, with regards to these two learning strategies. First of all, it shows that knowledge-building is more effective as a learning style, meaning that it leads to better learning outcomes. At the same time however, research also shows that most people have a knowledge-telling bias, where they instinctively tend to focus on knowledge-telling, even though it’s significantly less effective as a learning style.

Note: research on the topic looked primarily at how people focus on knowledge-telling and knowledge-building when they tutor others, which is an excellent way to learn yourself. In the present post, we will apply these findings to the field of self-study, under the assumption that if these techniques help you learn better when you’re teaching others, then they will also help you get better results when you’re learning by yourself.


How to focus on knowledge-building

When you study, you want to make sure that you focus on knowledge-building once you feel that you have a solid grasp of the material.

You can do this by using various strategies, including:

  • Highlighting key points in the material.
  • Reorganizing and the material in order to improve its structure.
  • Drawing connections between different parts of the material.

One of the best techniques that you can use is asking questions about the material, which force you to analyze it in-depth, and consider it from angles that you haven’t considered it before.

For example, if you’re learning about mitochondria (the cellular organelles responsible for energy production), a basic question on the topic might be:

  • What is the main function of mitochondria?

While this is an important question that you should know the answer to, if you just focus on repeatedly memorizing the answer to that question (i.e. focus on knowledge-telling), then you won’t develop a thorough understanding of what this information actually means.

However, you can improve your understanding of the topic by asking questions that prompt you to consider this information from different angles. For example, you could ask:

  • What would happen if all the mitochondria in a cell suddenly stopped working?
  • How would you explain the role of mitochondria to a 5-year-old, using only simple analogies?
  • What raw materials do mitochondria consume, and where do they get them from?
  • What materials do mitochondria create, where are they transported, and what are they used for?

In addition, if you’re teaching the material that you’re learning to someone else, you want to encourage interactions with that person as much as possible. This means letting them ask you questions, and especially ones that lead you to truly analyze the material before answering. The advantage to doing this is that other people will find ways to think about the material from new angles, that you haven’t considered yourself.


A note on reflective learning

Overall, focusing on knowledge-building by using the techniques that we saw so far ensures that you develop a strong understanding of the material.

However, another thing that you should do is actively monitor your knowledge throughout the learning process, and identify any misunderstandings that you have, as well as areas where you need to improve. This is referred to as reflective knowledge-building, and it essentially means that you should display self-awareness when you learn, in order to improve your learning outcomes.


Summary and conclusions

  • There are two main styles of learning that we use when we go over material that we’re familiar with: knowledge-telling and knowledge-building.
  • Knowledge-telling is used when we simply repeat the material in a rote manner, without modifying it or engaging with it on a significant level.
  • Knowledge-building involves a thorough analysis of the material, by using techniques such as highlighting key points, or asking questions that prompt you to consider the material from new angles.
  • Studies show that most people tend to focus on knowledge-telling, despite the fact that knowledge-building leads to better learning outcomes.
  • It’s important to remember that effective learning should be reflective, meaning that it should involve a constant appraisal of your understanding of the material, together with attempts to fix any misunderstandings or gaps in knowledge.


The Principle of Charity: on the Importance of Using Constructive Arguments


Simply put, the principle of charity is the idea that when criticizing someone’s argument, you should criticize the best possible interpretation of that argument. In the following article you will learn about this principle more in depth, and see some helpful guidelines for implementing it in practice.


What is the principle of charity

Though the underlying concept behind the principle of charity has always existed in various forms, it was formally stated and given its current name in a 1959 paper by Neil Wilson.

Essentially, the principle of charity embodies the idea that when you interpret what other people say, you should select the best possible interpretation for their statements. This means that, whenever possible, you should not attribute logical fallacies, falsehoods, or irrationality to other people’s argument, when there is a plausible rational alternative.

You can also extend this principle, so that in cases where it’s clear that there is in fact an issue with the other person’s argument, you should assume that this is unintentional on their part, as long as it’s reasonable to do so. This means that, whenever possible, you should attribute issues in your opponent’s arguments to a misunderstanding on their part, rather than to intentional malice.


How to implement the principle of charity

As we saw above, the basic way in which you implement the principle of charity is by assigning the best possible interpretation that you can to your opponent’s argument.

More specifically, philosopher Daniel Dennett lists the following four steps to implementing this principle, which he attributes to rules that were initially outlined by the famous psychologist Anatol Rapoport:

How to compose a successful critical commentary:

  1. You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.”
  2. You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).
  3. You should mention anything you have learned from your target.
  4. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.

From “Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking

By doing this, you are essentially using a steel man argument, which is when you attack the best possible version of your opponent’s argument, even if it involves improving their argument for them. This is the opposite of a straw man argument, which involves distorting your opponent’s views in order to make them easier to attack.

Overall, you implement the principle of charity by interpreting your opponent’s argument as being rational and coherent. How far you take this is up to you: you might prefer to only ignore minor issues with your opponent’s logic while still picking on large issues, or you might go as far as trying to improve their argument for them.

Your choices will likely vary under different circumstances. The crucial thing is to be aware of this principle, and to not immediately try and nit-pick issues with your opponent’s argument at any chance you get, especially if you’re trying to successfully get your point across.


The benefits of implementing the principle of charity

While you can choose to abide by the principle of charity because you believe it’s the right thing to do, implementing it also offers some practical benefits.

The first benefit to implementing this principle is that it forces you to improve your ability to construct your own arguments. This is because even though it’s  important to know how to notice and counter logical fallacies and inconsistencies in your opponent’s arguments, focusing only on these things can often become a crutch, which prevents you from looking at the validity of your own arguments. By ensuring that you don’t focus only on these issues, you help yourself learn how to improve and develop your reasoning process.

The second important benefit to implementing this principle is that by attributing the best possible argument to your opponent, you mitigate the risk of the backfire effect. This effect causes people to strengthen their support for their preexisting beliefs in the face of evidence that they are wrong. Since people are most strongly affected by this when they feel defense, abiding by the principle of charity and presenting your arguments in a non-confrontational manner that acknowledges the other person’s stance is one of the best ways to avoid this effect, and to make people more willing to listen to what you have to say.


Summary and conclusions

  • The principle of charity denotes that when criticizing someone’s argument, you should criticize the best possible interpretation of that argument.
  • This means that whenever possible, you should not attribute logical fallacies, falsehoods, or irrationality to other people’s arguments, when there is a plausible rational alternative.
  • Furthermore, even if there is an issue with the other person’s argument, you should give them the benefit of the doubt when it’s reasonable to do so, and assume that the issue is unintentional on their part.
  • To implement this principle, you can start by re-expressing your opponent’s position as clearly as possible, while listing any points of agreement and things that you’ve learned from them, before stating your own argument.
  • Beyond the moral ideal that this principle represents, implementing it also offers practical benefits. Specifically, ensuring that you don’t always focus on the small issues with your opponent’s arguments can help you improve the way you construct your own arguments, and will make the other person more willing to listen to what you have to say.