What is the halo effect, and how does it affect our lives

The way we present ourselves in the first minutes of getting to know other people largely determines our future relationships with them. At the same time, our general impression of us influences how a new acquaintance will assess some of our characteristics and what labels he/she will put on us. In psychology, this cognitive distortion is called the halo effect. Read more about why it occurs and how it affects our lives in this article.

What is the halo effect?

The halo effect was first mentioned back in 1920 by psychologist Edward Thorndike. His research revealed that when we evaluate other people, we are most often guided by the perception of personality traits such as appearance, talkativeness, cheerfulness, and charisma.

The halo effect can distort our perceptions. We concentrate on the pleasant impression we receive and may not notice the negative traits of the object. It is as if the first impression creates a halo, overshadowing everything else.

A few years later, psychologists Landy and Sigall came to the conclusion that the people we like outwardly, we often estimate as intelligent, worthy of attention and trust. And if a person makes a bad first impression, later discernment of his good features will be much harder. During the first minutes of acquaintance, we assess the appearance of the interlocutor and his professional status, smell, and even the sound of his voice.

Why does the halo effect appear in everyday life?

Many factors contribute to this cognitive distortion—for example, lack of time, information overload, and conservative views on life. Stereotypical thinking to which most people are subject can also provoke a halo effect. For example, thin people are often seen as evil and fat people as good. Or beauties are seen as arrogant and unapproachable and commoners as the company’s soul.

People with unusual appearances or those who have rare skills are also often victims of the halo effect. Most artists, for example, are thought of as having a difficult personality and a bad temper. In contrast, girls with pretty faces are often thought of as kind, even if, in reality, they are quite aggressive or duplicitous.

Such cognitive distortion is often present in children’s or teenage groups and in adults. A newcomer who fails to get on well with his new classmates from the first minute is likely to remain unnoticed and unrecognized by them. And a new employee who shows up in an unironed shirt or who prefers to eat lunch apart from the team is just as likely to fail to gain the support of his colleagues, even if his projects and ideas are very useful.

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How the halo effect can get in the way of life

First impressions can be deceptive. Because of this, the halo effect often has a negative effect. For instance, it may encourage managers to employ incompetent staff. It happens when the management, first of all, pays attention to the external data of the applicant and the name high school he graduated from, but not to his professional competence and experience.

Medical professionals can also be negatively affected by the halo effect. A medical professional who sees an outwardly beautiful and physically fit person in front of him tends to judge him as healthy and attribute his complaints to hypochondria and excessive health concerns.

The negative effects of a halo can also ruin careers. This is often the case for actors who have played a role in a cult film or television series. Because the picture was a great success, audiences refused to accept them as other characters, and they remained actors in the same role.

How to overcome the halo effect

Throughout life, our brain processes an enormous amount of information. In some cases, the halo effect plays the role of a protective mechanism and allows us to expend less energy in analyzing what is going on. But judging a person by one characteristic or first impression can lead to many wrong conclusions and decisions.

It is important to develop critical thinking and not be influenced by stereotypes to counteract the halo effect. To get rid of prejudices, you need to:

  • Learn to analyze things for yourself;
  • verify any information you receive;
  • Ignore the imposition of opinions and beliefs on you by others.

Note* Always consult your doctor or other qualified health care professional for any questions you may have about your health or condition. Never disregard a health care professional’s advice or delay getting it because of what you read on this website.
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