Do Me A Favor So You’ll Like Me

Benjamin FranklinCatch the twist in the title?

If you do a person a favor, you would expect that person to like you more. However, the research shows something different. If you do someone a favor, you tend to like that person more as a result. The reason is that we justify our actions to ourselves by assuming that we did the person a favor because we like them.

This phenomenon is dubbed the Ben Franklin effect, who quipped:

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

According to legend, Franklin used this discovery to curry the favor of a rival Pennsylvania legislator by asking the legislator to lend him a rare book and then thanking him profusely.  It worked.  In Franklin’s words:

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.

Lest you think that there is no science behind this, Jecker and Landy verified the phenomenon in a study that challenged participants to an intellectual contest.  The winners were subsequently either:

  1. Asked to return their prize money by the researcher because he had been using his own money and was running short
  2. Asked by a secretary to return their prize money because it was from the department and budget was running low
  3. Allowed to keep their prize money (i.e. not approached).

Everyone was then surveyed to see how they liked the researcher. Consistent with the Franklin effect, group 1 rated him higher than group 3 showing that a personal request for a favor increases likeability. In addition, group 2 rated the researcher lower than group 3 suggesting that an impersonal request decreases likeability.

Even though I didn’t find any supporting experiments, I suspect that the reverse is also true. If we hurt someone, we’re likely to like them less and want to hurt them more. This would explain long-standing grudges like Hatfield vs. McCoy and even wartime atrocities. Once we start, we may not be able to stop and engage in behavior we would normally never allow.

This may all be counter-intuitive, but Franklin’s insight is worth a mint: get someone to do you a favor and they will like you more.

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9 Responses to Do Me A Favor So You’ll Like Me

  1. John Appleby August 1, 2011 at 8:16 am #

    Jonathan – I like this. I’m pretty certain that the reverse is true psychologically and no more visible is it in personal relationships that come under strain.

    I read a great article about this yesterday linked from edge.org and I think the same applies in work scenarios. Think about “you”, “me” and “our relationship” as three separate entities.

    http://bigthink.com/ideas/38557

    But I think most importantly, if we treat someone badly, we tend to justify that in our minds as acceptable behaviour – increasing the likelihood of reoccurrence. Perhaps in the end we justify the acceptable behaviour by imagining we don’t like that person. Makes sense.

    • Jonathan August 2, 2011 at 7:57 pm #

      I’m not sure I buy the clock/cloud analogies but I follow the main idea — we cannot devolve all things into their interworking parts. Relationships are certainly a good example of something that has to be treated as a complex system.

  2. Inga Beryoza August 1, 2011 at 10:38 am #

    This is such a powerful trick! In order to achieve the success Franklin did, I believe one should approach this matter with a kind heart and good intentions.
    I will practice this discovery the coming week, I am sure I will have a new friend after 🙂

  3. Anonymous August 1, 2011 at 11:16 am #

    Both sides of this are truly revealing; very much the Hatfield vs. McCoy reference for the inverse. No doubt, this applies to individuals, groups or brands with which we associate negative feelings.

    On a totally seperate note:
    Jonathan, my watch is broken, do you have an extra you could lend me just for a short while?

    • Jonathan August 2, 2011 at 7:53 pm #

      Unfortunately I cannot lend you a watch as you are anonymous.

  4. Robert E August 3, 2011 at 7:35 am #

    So much depends on the motivations behind the favor asked, since Anonymous comes off as merely someone trying to take advantage of your generosity.

    In the Jerker and Landy study, the second group’s lower opinion came, no doubt, because they felt as if the researcher had taken advantage of them. Remember, it was a secretary, not the researcher that requested the money back.

    Franklin didn’t ask his rival for something contentious, like a favor for voting his way. By using their mutual interest in books to frame his favor, he broke the ice and allowed them to develop a life-long friendship. The beginning of that friendship started with the appreciation Franklin showed as thanks for that favor. We always remember a kindness.

  5. Kosin Huang August 3, 2011 at 3:37 pm #

    Keith Ferrazi would argue the opposite. His entire business and book, “Never Eat Alone” argues that successful networking is based on the idea that the more people you help, the more returns you will receive. Reaching out to help others and building genuine relationships based on the spirit of generosity is the best way to create your network. If you are always looking to “find ways to make others more successful,” then that network is ready to give back to when you most need it. It’s the “doing YOU a favor so you’ll like me” concept.

  6. Anonymous August 12, 2011 at 1:11 pm #

    Or Anonymous is someone who knows Jonathan well and knows that watches, he definitely has a few of 😉

  7. Aiaz Kazi August 20, 2011 at 8:03 pm #

    No wonder I find myself doing repeat favors for you 🙂 and the outcome clearly indicates this article is right. Quite a Jedi mind trick! Maybe I was hoping for the opposite outcome – somewhat like the last sentence of Kosin’s comment

    On a more reflective note, For the article premise to be correct, IMHO, first impressions matter – so if one starts without any history or reputation it is easier to tip this towards a positive outcome. An open positive mindset is important to overcome any negative first impressions. Finally, the ability to compartmentalize and separate the favor/request from any existing negative history is necessary to move this “transaction” forward.

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