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The Halo Effect on People Around Us – Explained With Examples

Cognitive biases are errors in the thinking process as an individual is processing and interpreting the information surrounding them. The Halo effect is a common cognitive bias. A halo effect is a process of drawing a general impression of someone based on a single quality, such as appearance or intelligence.

the halo effect on people around us

Source: Andy Dean Photography/Adobe Stock

What is the Halo Effect ?

The Halo Effect is a bias that leads an individual to make perceptions about an individual, event or thing based on a single characteristic.

For example, Ann is considered to be nice by her friend. Her friend also assumes she is smart. This assumption is called the halo effect. This effect makes the judgement of one quality led to biased judgements of other qualities as well.

History of the Halo Effect

The halo effect was introduced by Edward L. Thorndike. He introduced this concept based on his observation of military officers. Thorndike asked the officers to rank their subordinates is based on the characteristics like leadership and intelligence. He had yet not met their subordinates and the ratings were based on only the physical appearances of the subordinates.

For example, a tall and strong-looking subordinate was also perceived to be intelligent. Thorndike noted that physical appearances determine a lot about the evaluations.

Early Demonstration of Halo Effect

Solomon Asch studied and experimented to demonstrate the halo effect. A list of traits was given to his participants and they were asked to assess the individual to whom those traits applied. Asch found that when traits such as intelligence, skill, practical and warmth were given, the individual was assumed to be popular, wise, and humorous.

However, when cold was used instead of warm, the perceptions of the individual changed completely. A single trait (warm or cold) was shown to influence the participant’s perceptions, thus displaying the halo effect.

The Attractiveness Stereotype

The attractiveness stereotype is an example of the halo effect and can be seen in our everyday lives. It refers to the process of allocating positive characteristics to physically attractive people. People assume physically attractive people to be more intelligent, have better mental health and have higher mortality. These assumptions can be wrong and reflect one’s beliefs and prejudices.

For example, Lisa is an attractive girl in the classroom. She is perceived to also be more social and warmer by her classmates. Other people who are indeed social and warm could feel neglected due to this stereotype.

The Reverse Halo Effect

The reverse halo effect is a bias that occurs when seemingly positive judgements about an individual lead to negative consequences.

For example, physically attractive people can be judged as being self-absorbed or egoistic. Kiara joined a new school. She is perceived as a good-looking girl in her class. Due to this perception, a lot of her classmates assumed that she is unapproachable and self-involved.

Horn Effect

The horn effect, otherwise known as the devil effect or a pitchfork effect, is a cognitive bias that occurs when an individual evaluates others based on a single negative characteristic or quality. This effect could create biases in decision-making and performance reviews.

For example, Kim reaches out late to work some days. His supervisor assumes he must be lethargic and incompetent based on a single trait of punctuality. This affects his performance appraisal.

Halo Effect and the Workplace

The halo effect can have many impacts in a workplace setting. It is found that the halo effect is most likely to affect performance appraisals. A supervisor has to assess the performance of a subordinate during performance appraisals and reviews. It could be possible that the supervisor might give importance to a single quality of an employee and base the whole performance review on that one quality.

For example, if Kim is always punctual, his manager, James could give him a high appraisal. His vision is coloured by Kim’s punctuality, which is only one characteristic. His abilities and knowledge could be below par, but they go unnoticed due to the halo effect.

Other than performance appraisals, the halo effect could also affect income and other perceptions from seniors. If a senior considers a candidate to be sociable and attractive, he or she could also perceive them as smart, talented and qualified. It was found that perceived physical attractiveness could affect on income and financial success.

Halo Effect and Marketing

Products and services can be sold and/done with the advantage of the halo effect. Marketers use celebrities and popular faces to endorse their products. When people see their favourite celebrities endorsing a particular product, they make a single positive perception, which leads to a biased judgement for the whole product as well.

Halo Effect and Education

The halo effect can play a role in classrooms as well. Teachers might engage with students differentially based on their evaluations of attractiveness or sociability.

For example, John is an outgoing kid who interacts with students as well as teachers. His enthusiasm and social engagement can lead to biased judgements about his abilities and other qualities as well.

The halo effect can also affect how students regard their teachers. For example, when a teacher is considered to be warm and sociable, students are more likely to evaluate them as more likeable and appealing.

Applications/ Research Support for Halo Effect

Richard E. Nisbett and Timothy DeCamp Wilson (1977) investigated the halo effect by conducting two different videotaped interviews with the same person, a college instructor who spoke English with a European accent. In one interview, the instructor was warm and friendly. On the other, he was cold and distant. The participants who interacted with the warm instructor assessed his appearance, mannerisms, and accent as appealing. On the other hand, participants who interacted with the cold instructor assessed these attributes as irritating. Findings showed that global evaluations of an individual can prompt modified evaluations of the individual’s attributes, even when there is enough data to allow for independent evaluations of them.

Naquin, C. E., & Tynan, R. O. (2003) studied the existence of the team halo effect, which is the process of teams not being blamed for their failures. They conducted 2 studies, using real teams and controlled scenarios. They reason out the individuals are recognized as the cause of team failure than the team as a cumulative. Team schema development influences this effect, with people who have more team experience being less close to displaying the team halo effect.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Halo Effect

S. No.AdvantagesDisadvantages
1.The halo effect can be used in marketing in the form of celebrity endorsements and a strong social media presence that could lead to brand loyalty and repeat customers.The halo effect could lead to unfair treatment of people who are not perceived to be physically attractive.
2.Marketers will be able to study and analyze customer trends due to repeat customers.The halo effect could lead to differential treatment in workplace organizations.
3.Customers who are impressed because of the halo effect are more likely to try other product ranges from the same brand.The halo effect could lead to problems in the hiring process. If one candidate is preferred due to a single quality, it could lead to partiality.
4.Job candidates can use the halo effect to their advantage by creating a lasting first impression. (Using eye contact, a firm handshake and standing up straight communicates confidence)The halo effect could also play a role in medical facilities. A doctor might evaluate a person based on their appearance, without conducting a diagnostic test.
{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Alfred Gaboipone September 23, 2022, 7:52 am

    Thank you for the lessons. The Halo effect is very practical. Some of it’s effects are unnoticed mainly due to ignorance, or they are knowingly applied to manipulate others and/or systems

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