The Power of the Halo Effect

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The Power of the Halo Effect

A research proves that attractive people with positive traits are vain and dishonest, using their looks to influence other people to do their bidding. / Photo by: Dmytro Panchenko via 123rf


Edward Thorndike, an American psychologist, first introduced the Halo Effect in his study with the title The Constant Error in Psychological Ratings, which was published in 1920. In his research, he performed an experiment involving commanding officers and the soldiers under them. He requested the commanding officers to assess the different characteristics of their subordinates such as their loyalty, reliability, smartness, leadership and their physical appearance. It was discovered in his study that physical appearance was often associated with other positive qualities.

However, another research proves that although most people would associate an attractive person with positive traits, they are also more likely to view them as vain and dishonest. They also that the attractive person will only use their looks to influence other people to do their bidding.


Halo Effect Definition

According to the SAGE Encyclopedia of Social Science, the Halo Effect  is “the habitual tendency of people to rate attractive individuals more favorably than those who are less attractive.” In a broader sense, Amindset explains it as the concept that “global evaluations about a person bleed over into judgments about their specific traits.” It is also known by the names affect heuristic, physical attractiveness stereotype and the "what is good is beautiful" principle.

For example, when a person views their acquaintance as likable, they may also come to the conclusion that they are intelligent, even when they have not been able to prove if the person really was intelligent.  This is usually exhibited in the way most people perceive Hollywood stars as funnier, smarter and wise because the majority of them appear attractive and likeable.


Halo Effect in Action

The Halo Effect is a phenomenon that pervades many areas of an individual’s life. It is  portrayed in religion, folktales and in movies. It can also be seen happening in a person’s career, love life, school and their home. It is not only applicable to how people view others but also how they view objects. This is visible in the way they tend to perceive products, which is why companies try to make their products look more appealing to customers.


Myths and Folktales

These are stories usually told by elders who hand them down from one generation to the other. Myths and folktales can either be written or passed down orally. In most of these stories, the good characters and the bad ones are differentiated by linking their physical traits to other details about the character.

To cite an example, Cinderella and Snow White are described as beautiful and innocent. Meanwhile, the protagonists in their stories were linked with undesirable traits. The stepmother and stepsisters were usually depicted as wicked and ugly.


Snow white is one example that is described as beautiful and innocent while the protagonist was depicted as wicked and ugly. / Photo by: Yulia Koltyrina via 123rf


Portrayals in religion

In religious portraits, God and godly men are usually portrayed as having a halo near their head. Gods and goddesses are also illustrated as beautiful in various other religious paintings.


Most movies portray their man characters as the most beautiful or handsome ones in the show. In addition to their attractive physical features, they possess other superior qualities such as being confident, excellent communicators and intelligent. An example of this would be James Bond.


The impact of the Halo effect is typically seen in school when a person selects the individuals whom they want to be part of their friendship circle and in the way the teachers grade their students. When a student tries to make new friends, they usually prefer the company of more attractive students because they have the assumption that they will have a more fun time with them.

Love life

In searching for romantic partners, males and females usually prefer someone who is physically attractive. The general criteria for a guy to be considered attractive for most women is someone who is “tall, dark and handsome”. Similarly, men often pursue beautiful girls because they also link her beauty with other positive attributes like kindness and intelligence. In various parts of the world, the preference for fair skin is dominant. There is a general perception that people who have a darker skin color are inferior to those who are white. This bias has spurred many wars and several social arguments.


The influence of the Halo effect is also evident in the workplace. Interviewers has a tendency to choose job applicants whom they see as attractive rather than those who are not. There are studies that reveal that employers tend to subconsciously believe that attractive employees have many positive traits such as being competent, smart and honest. Another observation is that employers are often inclined to assign more job responsibilities to their more attractive employees. As a result, they have a higher probability of being promoted and praised for their work.


In job interviews, the interviewers tend to choose the applicants who are attractive because they believe that attractive employees have many positive traits such as being competent, smart and honest. / Photo by: Katarzyna Białasiewicz via 123rf



During elections, it is shown that citizen are prone to voting political candidates who are charismatic and are better looking. Due to the political candidate presenting themselves as having an attractive persona, voters presume that they would become a great leader and that they are honest and intelligent.

Law and Order

In executing judiciary decisions, the Halo effect is also observable. There are studies that reveal that a criminal who is unattractive may be fined twice the amount paid by an attractive criminal who had the same offense. Those part of the judiciary are also noted to be more tolerant in dealing with attractive criminals due to the presumption that they are could not possibly do harm.


In families, the more attractive child is often perceived to be better than the unattractive sibling. The good-looking child is assumed to be more intelligent and have a more appealing personality. This is often repeated in society, where the attractive child was usually esteemed much higher.


How to Avoid Getting Influenced by the Halo Effect

Since the halo effect is a bias, it can prevent a person from making a correct judgement. This can lead them to discriminating against others and promoting prejudice.  With this established, people should try to avoid falling into this trap. PsycholoGenie has suggested ways in which a person can prevent themselves from being influenced by it. These are some strategies they can employ:

1. They must not think that first impressions always last.

Job candidates should not be only assessed based on their appearance and how they dress. There are certain positive qualities that only come out in their everyday interactions in the workplace as well as when they experience the job. They may also try using other tools to evaluate to employee or job applicant. Some examples are handwriting analysis and IQ tests. Having a thorough background check is also advised.

They must also consult other supervisors’ ratings when they are considering an employee’s promotion.

2. They should be careful when choosing a political leader.

Voters are advised to examine the political candidate’s record before voting for them and believing that they are going to be a great leader.  They must look into their past political performance and how successful they have been so far. It is also important to find out if the candidate had been involved in a crime before.

Members of the jury are advised to place importance on interviewing the accused and rely on lie detection tests before they make a final judgement. They should also review previous decisions made by the jury on the same crime committed, such as the prison terms and the fine that the accused should pay for the offense.



3. At home, parents should treat all of their children fairly.

Parents should not favor one child over the other merely because of their physical features. After all, their children tend to look similar to them. Instead, they should acknowledge the talents of all their children and motivate them to develop more. They should give their children love and trust to help them become more successful.

Everyone should be more cautious in making assumptions and judgements on others. People should not be hasty to make conclusions about someone’s personality based on their outward appearance alone, since personality is not a tangible or visible trait. As the saying goes, “ Not all that glitters is gold.” Movie stars and other popular personalities have often been shown to have negative traits that contrast with how likeable persona they often portray.



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