How Does “The Halo Effect” Influence Our Relationships?

When we see a gorgeous person, something in our brain tells us they are “out of our league.” Why do we assume they’d be difficult to be friends with before even speaking to them?

Then, we naturally assume people are saintly when we see their pictures with a halo around their heads. Why do we extend our favoritism to one aspect of a person (a halo) to a judgment of their whole character (saintly person)?

Social psychologists call it the Halo Effect. It is a cognitive bias that plays out as our tendency to make snap judgments about others based on scant information.

It can make you assume that the things you do make you superior to those who do not. So, you may feel secretly smug about your smartness because you read that book on insubordination, while no one else in your office did.

When first impressions shatter, you don't like the person you see. But you fail to see that it was you who built those impressions. Click To Tweet
the halo effect

What Is The Halo Effect In Psychology?

In social psychology, the Halo Effect refers to a cognitive bias in which the perception of one trait influences the perception of other traits. This logical fallacy allows a person’s impression of a single quality to affect their judgment of other unrelated qualities.

It explains how the first thing we notice about a person influences our overall impression of them. It often leads to unfair judgment if we are not conscious of it.

The term “halo effect” was coined by American psychologist Edward L. Thorndike in his 1920 paper titled “A Constant Error in Psychological Ratings.”

Thorndike asked commanding officers to grade their subordinates on intelligence, physique, leadership, and character, without having spoken to them.

When he read the commanders’ reports, he found that those soldiers who were taller and more attractive were also rated more intelligent and better soldiers. Thorndike concluded people allow one remarkable quality of a person to dominate their overall impression of that person.

[• You’d love to check this out: How To Stimulate Your Vagus Nerve And Calm Down]

In 1946, Polish psychologist Solomon Asch found that people give more weight to first impressions than later ones when creating an overall image of a person.


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Examples of The Halo Effect

The Halo Effect is a cognitive bias in which our first impression of someone sways our opinions about their other characteristics. This effect can lead to unfair judgment, thus making it crucial to be aware of it.

Here are some examples of the halo effect:

• The Halo Effect occurs when we believe that a nerdy-looking guy is an obsessive and introverted person who is lonely because they lack social skills.

• The halo effect can lead us to believe that an impeccably dressed man would be a rich and powerful man.

• The refined looks of a person can lead to a favorable view of a different part of their personality. The halo effect can lead us to assume that a person who is attractive has many friends in real life and thousands of followers on social media.

By the way, your Facebook friends can make you unhappy.

• For example, if you like a person’s artwork, you might also believe they are intelligent and kind. This can happen without any actual evidence of these qualities.

Steve Jobs was a great innovator, but people who watch his product launch speeches frequently forget that he fired his employees for flimsy reasons.

• The Halo Effect can happen when you buy a new phone and find it to be great, you may start to think that all other products by the same company are also good quality.

That’s the reason people who buy one product often go on to buy that company’s other products. In fact, that’s how companies “jail” people in their ecosystems.

Did you know that removing restrictions from an iPhone is called “jailbreaking?”

• The halo effect can be seen when an interviewer or customer has a first impression that influences their opinion on other traits they observe later on.

For example, if an interviewer or customer likes a candidate’s personality, they might then think that they are more qualified than they would have been had the interview not gone well.

• Companies promote their products with attractive spokespersons. The viewer associates the positive qualities of the spokesperson with the product they are advertising.

Video by HIP.

An almost ubiquitous campaign is beautiful celebrities endorsing a whole array of products, from luxury cars to holiday apps.

• Lastly, a good but horrifically unjust example is the jaded and mistaken idea of “dumb blonde” jokes.

What Causes The Halo Effect?

The halo effect is a kind of biased decision-making that lures us to form snap judgments about a person within a fraction of a second of seeing them. Here is what causes us to have the halo effect:

The reason we evolved to have the halo effect is that, in essence, it is a mental shortcut (heuristics) that lets us quickly decide if a stranger can be trusted or not. Thus, it works as a survival mechanism, helping us judge people’s intentions quickly and easily, without spending much mental energy or time.

It can also be problematic because it leads us to make judgments about people based on limited information.

Our ancestors would have judged a good-looking person as a role model for future procreation since that person seemed to have avoided bodily defects from wars, diseases, and animal attacks.

Today, when we see a person who appears to have a flawless face, we tend to think that their skincare regimen and their makeup line must be excellent.

The Halo Effect is based on heuristics—mental shortcuts that act as rules-of-thumb to reduce the mental effort required to make critical and time-sensitive decisions. Click To Tweet

How Does The Halo Effect Influence Personal Relationships?

The Halo effect is a judgment bias that makes us attribute all positive qualities to someone after seeing only their one good quality. The “halo” is that one good quality that impresses us the first.

Now, this halo may induce us to believe that a person (with whom we are in a relationship) possesses qualities similar to that “halo.” We tend to explain and adjust our and their behaviors based on it.

The halo effect influences how we make decisions about other people, especially when we are meeting them for the first time.

We might have all felt within seconds of meeting someone that they have “good vibes” or “bad vibes.” Based on that impression, we tend to believe if we will like or hate to see them again.

Before we have a chance to explore a relationship with a stranger, the halo effect biases our judgment of their character or personality based on their physical attractiveness, social status, ethnicity, or gender identity.

The halo effect makes us focus on their unrelated attributes when, if we desired their friendship, we should have focused on finding out how they feel about empathy, self-compassion, resilience, and forgiveness.

Often, we find that people we thought were likable at first, turned out to have many qualities that we actually dislike. On the flip side, we may have been in for a surprise when an unlikable person over the course of time revealed themselves to be good for us.

The halo effect has both positive and negative effects:

  1. If you appreciate one feature of something, you will be inclined to like everything about it.
    If you dislike one element of something, you will have a negative attitude toward the entire item.
  2. The halo effect is observed in many aspects of life, as in employment interviews, product reviews, and school grades. It is also commonly seen in marketing and advertising campaigns.

The halo effect is a psychological phenomenon that occurs when individuals have an overall positive or negative impression of someone, which influences their attitudes and behaviors towards the person.

The halo effect can lead to more positive feelings about a person’s other qualities and can make them seem more socially attractive. It occurs when people let their first impression of a person spill over to how they feel about the person’s whole character.

It makes us attribute qualities of attractiveness to someone based on the first impression. This could later form the basis of physical attraction or the likability of personality traits.

It might also lead us to have other cognitive biases, which may make us ignore the red flags in a relationship.

How Is The Halo Effect Used For Advantage?

The Halo Effect can be used to advantage when it comes to marketing and advertising. When a person sees a company’s logo, they will assume that the company has good products and services because they are associated with that logo.

The halo effect can make us assume things about someone’s character or personality based on their appearance. It can be avoided by reminding ourselves to not judge a book by its cover, and instead of getting to know the person on an individual level.

The halo effect causes a strong bias in our perception, often colored by social media, which can lead us to build discriminatory ideas about other people, and behave toward them in a highly unjust way.

Final Words

In brief, the halo effect is a cognitive bias in psychology in which people make quick assumptions about someone’s character or personality based on their appearance.

It has some advantages, like avoiding “shady” characters, as well as disadvantages, like assuming racial superiority or inferiority.

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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy—a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes on mental health, happiness, positive psychology, and philosophy (especially Stoicism).


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