Do you look at your favourite celebrity through rose-coloured glasses? Perhaps you believe they’re the best in their field, outshining competition at every turn. Maybe you think their good looks are a gift from God, so they can’t possibly be an awful person. If so, you may be under the spell of the halo effect.
You may have heard of the concept in your Psychology 101 classes. But as a refresher, the halo effect refers to a cognitive bias wherein you judge someone’s character based on select traits. These assumptions are often the result of first impressions. Sometimes, having a single positive quality – like being physically attractive, as many celebs are – can make a person radiate goodness in other people’s eyes.
The History of the Halo Effect
So, what are the origins of this phenomenon? American psychologist Edward Thorndike was the first to substantiate the theory in 1920, later coining its name. In one experiment, he discovered that commanding officers were more likely to assume that taller, more attractive service members were also more intelligent and better soldiers.
The officers had no basis for these assumptions – they’d never interacted with the subordinates involved. Thorndike noticed a trend: service members who rated high in one category (i.e., physical attractiveness) tended to get high ratings in other categories (i.e., intelligence). The same was true for low ratings.
He then concluded that positive and negative impressions extend to unrelated qualities, influencing how one perceives another person in their totality. And just like that, the halo effect was born.
How It Manifests: Examples of the Halo Effect
Everyone is susceptible to this cognitive bias as it often manifests subconsciously. Most people don’t realise they’re assuming the best (or worst!) of someone based on limited interactions. It’s how the human brain works – it takes what little information it gets and makes judgment calls. Some examples of the halo effect in daily life include:
- Teachers assuming straight-A students are always well-behaved.
- Job interviewers thinking applicants dressed in crisp clothing will be top performers.
- Fans believing their favourite celebrity or public figure is also knowledgeable in unrelated subjects, like politics, charity work, or social causes.
- Patrons of a single product or service from a brand assuming all their offerings will meet the same quality standards.
What is the halo effect in dating?
Of course, this phenomenon is everywhere in the dating scene. Physical attraction is usually the first thing you notice when considering a partner. If you think someone’s good-looking or your “type,” you’re more likely to believe they have other positive attributes. Maybe they “appear” intelligent or “seem” like they’d be fun to hang out with, so you give them a chance.
When you get to the first date, you observe how they dress and speak and if they make you laugh. At this point, you still barely know the other person – but if they make a great first impression, you’re more likely to keep seeing them. Eventually, the halo around them will dim, and you’ll be able to see them as a complex individual. Not all bad, but not all good, either! But that’s when deeper connections form.
How to Use the Halo Effect to Your Advantage
There are pros and cons to this bias. After all, it can cloud one’s judgement of others and prevent them from understanding them fully. However, knowing that it exists can help you leverage it. Think of it as helping shape the narrative someone else might create for you. With the halo effect, first impressions literally define who you are to others. Here’s how to make a lasting and positive impact at every chance.
1. Flash a smile in profile photos.
In the age of social media, most people will look at a person’s online profile to get a feel of what they’re like. So, if you want others to think you’re fun, genuine, and approachable, flash them a winning smile in your profile photo. Some elements of a double-take-worthy selfie include smiling with your eyes and accentuating your mouth with a flattering lippie.
2. Maintain good grooming and hygiene habits.
Once you take your interactions offline, your presence becomes a multisensory experience. Before meeting anyone in person, be sure to check all the grooming essentials off your list. Run a comb through your hair, put on some deodorant, and brush and floss your teeth. Fresh breath is always a green flag!
3. Keep building your self-confidence.
The more secure you are in yourself, the easier it becomes to draw people in. But getting to that self-assured headspace can feel like an uphill battle when you have self-esteem struggles. Don’t worry! There are lots of practical ways to build it up over time, including taking charge of your insecurities.
For many people, their teeth are a constant source of anxiety. In fact, a national survey by the Extra Oral Healthcare Program found that two-thirds of Australian adults weren’t confident with their smiles. Does that resonate with you? Consider investing in aligner therapy with ClearCorrect. It’s a discreet and comfortable way to address crooked teeth and regain self-confidence.
Can You Overcome the Halo Effect Bias?
Since cognitive biases are often subconscious or automatic impulses, it’s normal to find yourself judging others before you get to know them. But if you want to shift your mindset, it’s possible with conscious effort. Recognise when the halo effect might be in play when you’re assessing someone. Ask yourself if your assumptions about them have a solid foundation, and reserve judgment until you have the facts.
Eventually, you’ll learn to be more objective about those around you, and the halo effect won’t be so definitive. First impressions count, but they shouldn’t be everything. Give others space to show you who they really are and, with luck, they’ll do the same for you. In the meantime, keep flashing them your best smile – in person and in all your photos!
Aussies a tad smile shy, research shows. (n.d.). Health Times.
Neugaard, B. (2023, August 25). Halo effect | Attribution, Perception, Bias. Encyclopedia Britannica.
Psychology Today. (n.d.). Halo Effect. psychologytoday.com.