The Halo Effect

What is the Halo Effect

The halo effect suggests we tend to think that if a person has one desirable trait, he or she must also have other desirable traits. For example, research shows that if we find a person attractive, we also think that he or she is honest, sociable, and kind. The halo effect explains in part why first impressions matter, and why, for example, we are more likely to vote for attractive politicians.

Research on the Halo Effect

A solid body of research shows the pervasiveness of the halo effect. Edward Thorndike, a researcher who was the first to study the halo effect, found that it distorts the evaluations of military officers. Commanding officers had to evaluate their soldiers in four categories. Thorndike found that if a soldier received high evaluation for physical qualities (physique, voice, neatness, etc), he would normally also receive high evaluations for intellect, leadership skills, and personal qualities.

External impressions sway similarly well in a courtroom. Research shows that attractive defendants are more likely to persuade juries of their innocence or receive lighter sentences.

Marketing is another field where the Halo effect is an eminent player. For example, some market analysts believe that success of other Apple products was set off by the success of iPod. In other words, if we love one product, we think the company’s other products are likewise great. Unfortunately, the Halo effect may wreak havoc on our ability to objectively analyze business performance. Phil Rosenzweig showed this deceptiveness in his book on the Halo effect: when we see a growing company, we are likely to think that it has a brilliant strategy, motivated people, a visionary CEO, great corporate culture, and so on.

 Sources:

  • Edward L. Thorndike, A constant error on psychological rating. Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 4, 25-29 (1920).
  • M.G. Efran, The Effect of Physical Appearance on the Judgement of Guilt, Interpersonal Attraction, and Severity of Recommended Punishment in a Simulated Jury Task. Journal of Research in Personality, Vol. 8, 45-54 (1975)