No one likes to feel like a mooch.
Which is why asking someone to do you a favour — proofread your résumé, walk your dog, loan you $20 because you forgot this was a cash-only restaurant — can be so stressful.
But if you’re stressing because you feel like the person helping you out will find you annoying and like you less, don’t. There’s a psychological phenomenon commonly known as the “Ben Franklin Effect” that explains why people wind up liking you more when they do you a favour.
David McRaney, author of the book “You Are Not So Smart,” explains how the phenomenon got its name on YouAreNotSoSmart.com. Supposedly, Benjamin Franklin had a hater — someone he considered a “gentleman of fortune and education” who would probably become influential in government.
In order to recruit the hater to his side, Franklin decided to ask the man if he could borrow one of the books from his library. The man was flattered and lent it; Franklin returned it one week later with a thank-you note.
The next time they saw each other, the man was exceedingly friendly to Franklin and Franklin said they stayed friends until the man died.
When psychologists tested the Ben Franklin effect in 1969, they found the effect really did hold water. For the small study, volunteers participated in a study in which they could win money.
One-third of the volunteers were then approached by a secretary who said that the psychology department had paid for the study and funds were running out, and asked the volunteer to return the payment. One-third were approached by the experimenter and told that he himself had paid for the study and funds were running out, and asked the volunteer to return the payment. The final third were allowed to keep their money.
Results showed that volunteers liked the experimenter most when they’d done him the favour of returning his money, and least when they’d gotten to keep their money.
In other words, the researchers concluded, doing someone a favour makes us like that person more. The researchers suspected that the Ben Franklin effect works because of “cognitive dissonance”: We find it difficult to reconcile the fact that we did someone a favour and we hate them, so we assume that we like them.
More recently, another psychologist conducted a similar, small study on the Ben Franklin effect in the United States and Japan.
Participants in both countries ended up liking another person who was presumably working on the same task more when he asked for help completing a project than when he didn’t. Interestingly, however, they didn’t like that person more when the experimenter asked them to help that person.
The psychologist behind this study, Yu Niiya of Hosei University in Tokyo, therefore suggests that the Ben Franklin effect isn’t a result of cognitive dissonance. Instead, she says it happens because the person being asked for help can sense that the person asking for help wants to get chummy with them and in turn reciprocates the liking.
Regardless of the specific mechanism behind the Ben Franklin Effect, the bottom line is that you shouldn’t freak out every time you ask someone to lend a hand. In fact, you can deploy your requests for help strategically, a la Franklin, to win over detractors.
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