What is the Halo Effect?

What is the Halo Effect
Drawing by Adrian Serghie

Provided by Natalie from Big Happy Life

Blog: https://bighappylife.blog/

Website: http://bighappylife.co.uk/

   Humans are not fans of ambiguity. We don’t like being confused and, since life is confusing and people are confusing, our subconscious minds work to simplify things. One of the ways we do this is with the cognitive biases and one such bias is the halo effect.

   It’s a form of “all or nothing” thinking and it works by taking one or two positive traits in a person or thing and assuming or inferring the presence of further positive traits.  Many of us believe we’re too savvy to think this way. Many of us are wrong.

   The most common form of the halo effect is linked to attractiveness. When it comes to attractive people, we like them more readily, trust them more readily and infer all kinds of positive qualities without necessarily having any evidence to support the presence of these qualities. Fortunately for the less symmetrical among us, (it appears attractiveness all about symmetry) the halo effect is not exclusively linked to attractiveness.

   As Daniel Kahneman demonstrates in his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow (I know I mention this book a lot but it’s utterly brilliant and explains so many biases beautifully), the first impressions we have of people shape our perception of later information. It seems there may be a psychological basis for the old cliché “You never get a second chance to make a great first impression.”

   One example Kahneman shares in the book is that of Joan. You meet her at a party. She is personable and easy to talk to.  You like her. When asked whether or not you think she would give to charity, you believe she would. You like Joan and you like people who give to charity. It’s a match! Of course, now that you believe she is generous, you like her even more than you did earlier…cue more positive beliefs about Joan.

   The information we first associate with a person or thing determines how we filter later information so in Joan’s case, we’re more likely to notice and remember positive traits and actions and we’re more likely to ignore or excuse negative traits or actions. In my previous post, “The Story Matters”, I shared my own experience as an adoptive parent benefiting from the halo effect. Despite the number, frequency and variety of my parenting mistakes and misdemeanors, they were all explained away under the banner of “learning curve”. People saw me as a good person trying her best. They remembered the wins and the good stuff and they forgave and forgot the bad stuff. It made sense to them to do so.

   Biases help us work out what to do. If we constantly had to reevaluate someone’s character, things would get very messy very quickly. Our biases are powerful little programs running undetected in our minds, making us feel sure footed in our decisions and evaluations. In my case as an adoptive parent, I like to think people made the right decision in giving me the benefit of the doubt. Biased thinking isn’t necessarily incorrect but it’s worth being aware of the presence of such biases because of how they shape our perception, beliefs and actions.

12 thoughts on “What is the Halo Effect?

    1. I’m really glad you found it useful! Another really interesting bias is the Horns Effect – the same as the Halo but in the opposite direction.

  1. Amazing post, Really elevated my perception about biased thinking or ‘Halo Effect’ as u said it, as being a Software engineer, I believe U beautifully explained ‘Halo Effect’ in the last of your paragraph that “Biased Thinking or Halo Effect is like Small , Undetected programs that continue to run in our mind and Effects the way we treat ppl” , also I agree with the fact that it helps the other person with benefit of doubt, but also we all Must be Rational enough to see people and things without following our presumed nature of that person or thing…

    1. I hope that the more we learn about our mind, the better we can detect whenever some “bug” is there that messes up our perception.

    2. Thanks so much ambervantage! I’m delighted you found it interesting. It’s funny, I work so hard to fight against any possible biases now that I often find myself at a total loss to work out what’s going on and how to respond. My daughter came home from school this week, having been bullied by 4 girls who used to be her friends. The natural response would be to defend my daughter and deal with the ‘bullies’ but I found myself thinking “there’s going to be more to the story and I don’t have all the information.” In the absence of being able to find out the whole story, I’m stuck. Someone with more biased thinking would have been in touch with the school straight away. As is, I’m going to contact them but it’s an odd feeling to be so unsure in the face of things others would think are obvious.

      1. Its ok to be Rational, but I do believe that communication is Very important, and when u r at it; a friendly communication with ur children is really the trick to get to know the whole story. I remember my days as a child, I use to come home and tell the whole day story to my parents (either mom or dad , whoever is available ) , even the minor details like ” then I told her…. ” and I believe this really helped my parents to get to know what I’m up to and where I’m heading (as far as my personality is concerned). However as a parent, you must know both side of the story and ur communication must be this friendly that u can convey what’s good and what’s bad? How to protect oneself ? How to deal with bullies and all…
        Good Luck and all the best.

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