Why We Need To Watch Out For The Halo Effect

Ever wonder why you have a good “gut feeling” about someone? It might have something to do with the halo effect.

By Keelia Clarkson2 min read
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Shutterstock/All kind of people

The amount of people we come into contact with on any given day is astounding. From the cashier checking us out at the store, to the tourist who asks us for directions on the street, to the guy we see a few times a week at our favorite café, we’re constantly surrounded by people.

But more than just interacting with them, we’re forming fast opinions and collecting information about them based on their appearance, whether or not we’re trying to or even realize we’re doing it. Despite most of us being taught that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, studies find that it only takes one-tenth of a second for us to come up with an assessment or feeling about someone.

So why is it that we can get a good feeling about someone without even speaking to them? Why do we find ourselves liking someone before we know anything about them? It’s all due to something called “the halo effect.”

What’s the Halo Effect?

Simply put, the halo effect is a term that explains our human inclination to ascribe positive traits to someone based on their appearance or other attributes we consider good, such as displaying kindness or intelligence. Essentially, we might see a pretty person and automatically assume them to be trustworthy, gracious, or hardworking. But the halo effect, while generally used in reference to attractiveness, can also occur if we come across an exceptionally funny, brainy, or successful person.

The halo effect is when we ascribe positive traits to someone based on their appearance. 

The power of the halo effect reaches far and wide, influencing whether or not an individual lands a job, how much money they make, the grades they’re given in school, and even the length of their prison sentences. The more conventionally attractive a person, the better they’ll be regarded and treated in other senses.

Is the Halo Effect Inherently Bad?

The benefits to be reaped simply for being good-looking or coming across well are plentiful and advantageous — to a point that feels unfair. Why should attractive people be awarded perks they might not deserve? Isn’t it immoral to treat people differently for such a trivial reason as their appearance?

While the outcomes of the halo effect leave things unequal, it’s also in our human nature to respond to beauty and what we perceive as goodness, making it difficult to call the halo effect wholly and intrinsically bad. We’re not totally at fault for what’s an involuntary reaction. But we can take a look at the negative consequences it could possibly inflict on us.

We Need To Be Cautious About Taking People at Face Value

Most of us have, after the end of a toxic relationship or friendship, had a moment of, “Why did I like them in the first place? Why did I let them get away with this behavior?”. Often enough, we can thank the halo effect.

Despite it being a natural reaction, it’s important that we understand how it can lead us to incorrect conclusions and cause us to make undue excuses for our significant other, new love interest, or friend. When we see them as superior to us, or better than they actually are, we’re more likely to let them off the hook and allow them to mistreat us.

When we see them as superior, we’re more likely to excuse them and allow them to mistreat us.

This won’t be lost on them, either. They’ll get used to seeing us as inferior to them, or expect to have their unacceptable conduct be pardoned, making for an unhealthy dynamic and a relationship that can only end with bad feelings. 

Closing Thoughts

The halo effect is a normal part of life, but it’s crucial that we’re able to recognize when someone in our life is benefitting too much from it.

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