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Halo Effect – Do You Favor First Impressions as the Best One?

Halo Effect – Do You Favor First Impressions as the Best One?

Updated on May 27, 2022

Reviewed by Dr. Nereida Gonzalez-Berrios, MD , Certified Psychiatrist

Halo Effect - Meaning, Examples, Experiments, Impact, Pitfalls & More

Key Takeaways

  • The Halo effect is the handiwork of Edward Thorndike. He coined the term in 1920.
  • Your gross and all-inclusive impressions about someone will determine how you think, feel, and judge them.
  • The Halo effect is popularly known as the ‘physical attractiveness stereotype.’
  • Sometimes, the halo effect leads to perceptual distortions and faulty decision-making.
  • You may not see what it really is, thus thoughts and perceptions become hazy and biased.
  • The Halo effect is based on subjective judgments and not objective analogies.

We all make impressions about things, people, and situations in our daily life. Some of these impressions are based solely on hunchs and beliefs that are not reality.

The Halo effect is one such first impression that can cloud our reality in no time.

To put it simply, this is a type of cognitive bias or a preconceived notion that uses one single positive and negative trait or quality of a person or thing to make an overall judgment. 

This bias helps us to cut short information processing. We can quickly make impressions of a person or thing by just considering one single quality. 

The Halo effect influences perceptions, opinions, and judgments. It usually works on the idea that the first impression is the best impression, whether good or bad. 

In the real world, this cognitive bias distorts our sense of reality and can make us commit errors in thinking and decision-making.

Let us know more of it here….

Halo Effect Infographics

Halo Effect - Meaning, Examples, Experiments, Impact, Pitfalls & More
Halo Effect – Meaning, Examples, Experiments, Impact, Pitfalls & More
Halo Effect - Meaning, Examples, Experiments, Impact, Pitfalls & More
Halo Effect – Meaning, Examples, Experiments, Impact, Pitfalls & More

What is the Halo Effect?

The Halo effect is a cognitive bias and thought errors that occur from making an overall opinion of people, things, and situations just by knowing a single quality.

The Halo effect is an inclination to use impressions formed in one context to influence your opinion and feelings in all other contexts. 

You must have heard someone saying that all attractive people are not only street smart but intelligent, and confident as well. 

It means the perception of a person is made on the basis of one single quality, that is; physical attractiveness.

Your perception of attractiveness, a single quality is carried over to all other aspects of that person or thing. 

This phenomenon is known as the halo effect. You will form opinions or evaluate people and situations on the basis of pre-conceived ideas.

The Halo effect works well because people are busy streamlining information.

Since human attention span is short and limited, it is not possible to know everything about a person, thing, or situation before arriving at a conclusion.

Thus, people use cognitive bias to ease information processing.

The Halo effect does just that. It helps to form an opinion and decide on things and people based on only a handful of information.

Thus, an overall impression is created and determines how we become aware of people and situations around us.

In consumer psychology, the halo effect works almost every time. For example, you visit an electronic store to buy an oven. 

You will ask the sales guy to show you the brand that you have used before. Maybe, you will insist on a particular brand only, even if the salesperson tries to tell you about some other trending brand.

In the above example, your decision-making is based on a positive impression that you have already formed beforehand. 

This first impression is passed down with a consideration that all household appliances of your preferred brand will be good and awesome.

The psychology behind the Halo effect

In psychology, the term halo effect was first used by an American psychologist Edward Thorndike.

It is a psychological phenomenon where you’ll be influenced by previous knowledge and information. This prior information is used to form ideas and opinions that may not be real.

When you are using the halo effect, you’re actually overestimating the strengths of a person, product, brand, or situation. At the same time, this bias makes you ignore the flaws. 

Your decision is based on what you already know as if you do not want to see the other side of the coin. The Halo effect makes you see things in one direction only. You will rely on first impressions.

The Halo effect can lead to poor evaluations, faulty judgments, and biased opinions. We can say the spillover effects of a single quality influence future opinions and decisions.

Halo effect is also widely known as ‘physical attractiveness biases.’

It means you think that if people are good-looking and well-groomed, it is likely that they should be intelligent, smart, and wise also.

Attractive individuals are perceived positively just because they look good. This phenomenon also works well in the case of our perception of celebrities.

We may form an opinion that our favorite celebrity is successful and likable and thus they ought to be generous, kind, and humble as well. 

The evaluation of the person is based on a single likable quality.

In psychology, the halo effect operates because you are inclined to trust your intuitions as authentic.

Your overall impression of a person or thing will negate all other specific information that you may have. Thus, you will try hard to fit in what you believe to be true.

The history of the Halo effect

The Halo effect dates back to 1920 when psychologist Edward Thorndike, came across this unique concept. He pointed out that the halo effect is a cognitive bias or simply errors in thinking. 

It is a tendency where one positive aspect of a person, thing, brand, or situation affects one’s opinions, judgments, and decision-making in all other aspects of that entity.

The concept was first used in his research paper titled “The Constant Errors in Psychological Ratings.” The paper was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology in 1920.

While working with U.S military forces, Thorndike noticed that the commanding officers judged their subordinate military officers on the basis of certain traits.

These traits included physical features, leadership style, social etiquette, discipline, loyalty, and integrity.

In this study, Thorndike found that physical features, stunning looks, good body build, and smartness all played a very vital role in evaluations.

This means the commanding officers believed or held a biased idea that if the subordinate is physically attractive, then they will be intelligent and loyal as well.

The aim of this study is to find out how people rate others just on the basis of a single quality.

Thorndike concluded that higher ratings of a particular trait are carried forward to assign higher ratings to other traits as well.

He found a very high correlation between physique and intelligence, physique and leadership, etc. 

In conclusion, Thorndike noted that the responses of the commanding officers were biased and relied on physical attractiveness only. They correlated good physique with all the mental qualities positively.

In his own words, Thorndike pointed out, The correlations are too high and too even. The average correlation for physique with intelligence is .31; for physique with leadership, .39; and for physique with character, .28″.

Thus, the halo effect is created when the commanding officers try to rate the psychological traits of the subordinates based on physical attractiveness only. 

The overall impression created was faulty and erroneous. It reflected a stereotypical idea that is subjective and may differ from rational judgments.

Halo effect examples

You must be eager to know where the term ‘Halo’ actually came from. This term originated from Religion and was later used in social psychology to use a phenomenon of faulty perceptions.

It means a crown of light seen encircling the head of a saint or holy being that proves their sanctity and divineness.

Thus, the halo represents heavenly light, glory, radiance, and nimbus. It is an overall feeling that the entity is good and worthy.

We come across many situations in our everyday life that predict that anything that is good-looking is also good in quality. 

You tend to rate people, things, brands, on the basis of looks. For all of us, good looks also mean good positive traits, as if nothing can go wrong.

Most of the time, the halo effect operates unconsciously. You do not purposely try to ignore some important information related to the entity.

It just happens on its own. It is one of the most common biases that one can experience.

This is the reason that the halo effect is an error in judgment. It clouds one’s perception in such a way that the person is completely unaware of it; still, it exists and influences opinions in a big way.

When the halo effect operates, you may tend to assume that the person can’t be bad; or the product or brand can never turn out awful. 

Your brain is wired to believe things that are based on preconceived ideas and opinions. It’s like ‘What is good is also perfect, it can’t go wrong.’

Real-life examples

Some of the examples that can explain the halo effect are as follows:

  • You went to a physician with complaints of fever and throat pain and he/she assumes that you have a viral infection. The doctor must have used some prior experience in deciding about your case. Without even conducting tests and medical evaluations, the decision was made.
  • Your friend is lean and thin and lacks the energy to walk 5 kilometers with you. This assumption of the person was based on physical appearance. You formed the wrong idea that since the person is skinny; they might be less energetic and cannot walk such a long distance.
  • A person who always smiles is happier. They don’t have any sufferings and setbacks. This is a classic example of the halo effect. Just as they wear a smile all the time doesn’t mean they are genuinely happy from within. It could be just a social gesture also.
  • You are inclined to use the same brand of the refrigerator just because your beloved celebrity is using it. There is trust in the product that it is good and durable. This trust is an assumed one, not real. You are assuming that the product will turn out to be good because a notable person is using it. Here, your likings and positive feelings for the celebrity impacted your decision-making. You hold a biased notion that anything that is connected with that person is good and worthy.
  • Your boss told you to take an interview of a new candidate for a specific job role. You found that individual is well-groomed, neat, and presentable. thus, only by assessing his/her looks, you are more likely to believe that this person is intelligent, and shall have a good work ethic. Thus, you give a nod for his/her recruitment.
  • The marketing industry tries to endorse all their newly launched products by celebrity figures just to increase their authenticity. People will rush to buy stuff that was endorsed by their likable celebrity figures.
  • A teacher may socially perceive a bright student in the class as well-behaved and helpful. Thus, the child’s intelligence was used to evaluate how the person behaves in class and with friends.

Halo effect experiments

Let us discuss an experimental study on the halo effect. 

This research study was conducted by Landy and Sigall in 1974.

The purpose of the experiment is to analyze the influence of the halo effect of male undergraduate students on the academic performance, ability, and overall competence of female first-year students.

In the study, 60 male undergraduate students were used. They were instructed to rate the quality of the prose and judge the overall impression of the female writers. 

The male students will have to judge the competence of the first-year college female students on a number of dimensions.

Both poor quality write-ups and good quality prose were given to the boys for reading and assessment. Out of the 60 male participants, 20 boys were shown pictures of unattractive and shabby women as writers.

Another 20 sets of boys were shown pictures of beautiful and attractive women as the author of the prose. The last 20 boys acted as the control group.

They were not shown pictures of women but were told to evaluate the competence of the girl writers.

However, 30 boys were presented with a well-written version of the prose, and the rest 30 read the poorly-written prose. 


The results were synonymous with what the researchers expected.

It has been found that boys who were shown the pictures of attractive women as writers rated their work positively, even if the write-up was of poor quality. 

This means the boys judged the writers not on their level of writing and competence but on physical attractiveness. 

The judgment was biased as the correlation between attractiveness and quality came out to be salient. Biased perceptions played a role in decision-making. 

The results showed that male students were more prone to tolerate poor performance by attractive girls than a good write-up by somebody not so good-looking.

The Halo effect dominated perception and clouded reality to a great extent, leading to biased outcomes.

Reverse halo effect /Horns effect

This is a cognitive error or tendency where you will judge a positive trait of a person in a negative way.

Precisely, the reverse halo effect operates when some positive qualities lead to negative opinions and judgments.

The typical prejudiced ideas that operate in society are all presumptions of the reverse halo effect.

You may think that all those people who are rich and socially successful are arrogant, ungrateful, unkind, and haughty. But in reality, they may be someone very kind and loving.

Research shows that people who are under the impact of the reverse halo effect tend to evaluate people negatively. Attractive people are seen as boastful and egoists. (Eagly, Ashmore, Makhijani & Longo, 1991).

The Horns effect is just the opposite of the Halo effect. It is a type of reverse halo effect where a negative first impression about a person or thing is used to judge all other aspects of that entity negatively.

Research studies done on classroom settings have shown that children who showed bouts of anger, lack of attention, and maladaptive behavior in the classroom were perceived wrongly to suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

In the above example, the negative traits of children were used to form impressions about them. In the marketing and sales industry, the horns effect operates very often.

If people perceive the outer packaging of a product as simple and unattractive, they may use this negative impression to decide that the product is not worthy to be used.

Impact of the halo effect

The halo effect may impact people and affect perceptions in various real-world situations. In this section, we will discuss a few of them.

In the Academics and education industry

  • The Halo effect impacts the classroom setting greatly. Teachers may think that if a particular child is good at academics, they will also show a similar level of competence in sports and co-curricular activities also.
  • In educational settings, teachers may treat their students differently based on whether they are high achievers or low achievers. All high achievers are perceived as more able, confident, smart, and successful. On the other hand, mediocre and low achievers can be perceived as less competent in all aspects of overall growth.

In social settings

  • In several social situations, if a person is perceived as warm, kind, humble, and considerate in one situation, they will be perceived in similar ways in all other circumstances, even if it is a completely wrong assumption. Sometimes they will be considered more appealing and approachable than others.

In workplaces

  • The Halo effect can influence performance appraisals in workplace settings. It has been seen that subordinates who are in the good books of their employees because they are attractive and social do get a better pay hike and promotion than other employees.
  • Managers always evaluate their subordinates based on physical traits, social qualities rather than intellectual qualities, and work ethics. A positive-minded employee who is vibrant and attractive will be rated better than others.

In the marketing and sales domain

  • In the sales and marketing industry, the halo effect operates well. Whenever a new product is launched in the market, the company uses promotional advertisements where politicians and celebrity people endorse the item. 

This is done to make the product appear credible and increase sales figures.

People will rate the product positively because they have an inclination to judge the product on the basis of positive evaluations of the celebrity person.

Health sector

  • Research studies have shown that people who are health conscious and do a lot of dieting will be happy to see ‘organic’ labeling on a food item. They will tend to underestimate the calories present in the food item just because it is an organic product. In reality, it may not be so.

Pitfalls of Halo effect

The Halo effect has many side effects. Some of them are as follows:

  • The Halo effect is a biased judgment. Thus, it is faulty and shows errors in thoughts and perception.
  • People who use the Halo effect quite often remain in a clouded state of mind. They cannot think rationally and logically.
  • The Halo effect leads to faulty decision-making that actually needs to be given a good thought.
  • The Halo effect leads to false impressions.
  • You are swayed by subjective experiences.
  • Objective understanding and rational decision-making get hampered.
  • If you tend to be influenced by the halo effect, you may not be able to think critically about the various aspects of a person or thing.
  • You may judge people in unfair ways.
  • Sometimes the halo effect leads to missing out on important opportunities in life.
  • The Halo effect when used in consumerism can create havoc. The wrong perception may manipulate the mindset of the people and they may spend more money than what is needed.
  • The Halo effect impacts decision-making. It reduces accuracy and leads to stereotypical ideas that are far away from reality.

Why do people experience and rely upon the Halo effect? (The reasons)

The Halo effect operates because the human brain is taxed with information overload. We cannot attend to each and every aspect of a person, thing, or situation. 

Thus, the halo effect shows up and helps to make a quick decision. It reduces the mental pressure to critically analyze every small piece of information that comes to us.

There are several reasons why people form a halo effect and stick to it.

1. Tendency to validate first impressions

When you make an initial impression about someone or something, you’ll always try to prove that your impression and decision are correct.

It gives you a sense of accomplishment. You will feel worthy of the decision you have made.

2. Removes cognitive dissonance

The halo effect helps you to remove cognitive dissonance. If you find out that your first impression was faulty, you’ll suffer from cognitive conflicts, leading to dissonance. 

This dissonance is painful. You do not want to accept this. Maybe reconciliation of the initial impression with the new, better one seems difficult.

The Halo effect makes you feel that you should stick to the old opinion only.

3. Tendency to assert past information

The Halo effect is related to confirmation bias. It helps you to validate what you already know. You will be able to match your opinion and decisions with preexisting ideas and beliefs.

4. Conflicting beliefs and ideas regarding the different traits of an entity

Sometimes, you experience the halo effect because you may struggle to understand the different qualities that an entity can possess.

Your lack of clarity leads to biased judgments because you never wanted to give more time to the process. 

Since you failed to assess all the specific traits as a separate entity, you probably made an overall evaluation. Your assessment of a single trait was carried over or spilled to other traits of the entity.

5. Reduces cognitive load

People rely on the halo effect because it is easy to use. One can easily reduce information overload. When you focus on a single quality to evaluate people, it reduces your mental effort. 

You tend to rely on one aspect only to positively judge other traits. It means you’re judging a book by its cover.

You will use the key salient feature that stands out to judge all other qualities of the person. This minimizes effort and quickens the decision-making process.

6. Effective heuristic

The Halo effect is used because it acts as a rule of thumb. It is an effective heuristic that speeds the decision-making. 

The Halo effect is a shortcut that is handy and can be used to decide upon things. When we do not have valid information on something, we choose easy ways of decision-making. 

For example: if you are in a shopping center and need to take a call on any one of the products to choose from, you’ll decide the quality of the product on the basis of the outer packaging. 

Since you do not have much time to decide on things, you will use a shortcut method. It means if the packaging of the product looks attractive, you’ll rate it higher than the other.

It is very obvious that the decision made influenced by the halo effect is not always great. You may end up making the wrong choice for yourself.

Your accountability for the halo effect

You should be careful while making important choices and decisions in life. If at all the halo effect operates, you will have to take the onus on yourself.

Most of the time the halo effect takes place much before you could realize it. 

The Halo effect is an unconscious process. But be aware that the halo effect kills rational judgments and critical thinking. 

So, you cannot blame others for the wrong choice you have made in life. The Halo effect can influence thoughts, feelings, and objective evaluation.

It is advisable not to judge the book by its cover. Just because something is physically attractive doesn’t mean that you should quickly jump to conclusions that are faulty and biased.

Try to analyze people and things in totality. Just do not use a single trait to form impressions about them. 

To reduce the chances of being affected by the halo effect, keep all your choices open, analyze deeply before arriving at a conclusion.

Just slow down and reason gradually. Avoid hasty decisions that may put you in trouble in the long run.

How to knock down the halo effect?

We have already discussed the negative pitfalls of the halo effect in a previous section. The Halo effect leads to faulty decisions; it’s like jumping to conclusions based on first impressions only.

It can mislead you to make wrong assumptions and unfair decisions. The outcome may mean making a wrong choice in life, recruiting a job misfit person for a role, choosing a faulty product from the market, etc. 

Remember, biased thoughts and decisions operate only if you allow them to happen. If you try to take a mental shortcut or use an automatic, emotional decision in life, the halo effect ought to happen.

But if you take things easy and slow down the decision-making process, you’ll be able to use critical thinking in understanding people, things, and processes.

Cut down on subjective feelings and hunt for objective data that can substantiate your thoughts and feelings. You can use the following three ways to beat the halo effect.

1. Increase your awareness

If you are aware not to use first impressions to judge people or things, the halo effect is less likely to occur. Awareness helps you to hunt for more choices and options. 

You will be inclined to decide objectively by analyzing the pros and cons of everything.

Sometimes, you will be able to remember your past judgment faults and never wish to repeat them again. Maybe, you will become extra cautious.

2. Pause and slow down

Avoid rushing into things. It will lead to wrong decision-making. Avoid making hasty decisions only by following old patterns of thinking and judgment. 

Try to learn new things about the person who you do not know much about. For example: when choosing a life partner, you should go for several dates before making the final decision.

3. Follow a system while you analyze the pros and cons of something

This is a tricky and time-consuming process. If you are looking at recruiting new people for your company, you can make criteria for the same. 

You will be able to make the right choice if you decide that only those candidates will be shortlisted who meets the criteria. Thus, your decisions will be more logical and less biased.

The video link shared below shows the concept of the halo effect and the way it influences your decision-making in everyday life. Do check out.

Summing Up from ‘ThePleasantMind’

To finish off the discussion, it is worth mentioning that the halo effect is a swaying and inclination of the human mind towards an overall or global evaluation and decision making.

Sometimes these global evaluations can backfire and impact mental health in a bad way.

The human mind tends to confirm preconceived ideas and preexisting knowledge as right and authentic.

Thus, the positive evaluation of a single trait in a person, or thing is used to make all-inclusive and gross judgments.

The Halo effect saves time because we are not keen to check out conflicting ideas. We believe only what we know beforehand.

It makes us comfortable. Perhaps, it can be considered as a potent shortcut to quick decision-making.

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