What do you think of when you hear the word "halo"? The most common association with a halo is that it's a divine light emanating from heaven, but did you know that this term also has another meaning? In this post, we'll explore the psychology behind the halo effect and look at some examples of where it has been observed in real life!

What is the Halo Effect?

In psychology, the Halo Effect refers to our tendency to perceive others based on what we like about them.

For example, someone who is attractive will be seen as more intelligent and trustworthy than they are. This phenomenon may seem unfair, but it can help explain why people behave the way they do with other people.

"Several different studies have found that when we rate people as good-looking, we also tend to believe that they have positive personality traits and that they are more intelligent. One study even found that jurors were less likely to believe that attractive people were guilty of criminal behavior."

But this effect doesn't just affect how we perceive people's attractiveness. It can also include other traits. People who are sociable or kind may be seen as more intelligent. The halo effect causes distorted perceptions of other qualities.

The term itself describes how it can alter perceptions as a halo. In religious art, a halo is often depicted over a saint's head, bathing them in heavenly light.

When you see someone with a halo, you see them in a similar light. Your perception of one characteristic creates a "halo" around them.

The Halo Effect's History

Edward Thorndike first used the term in 1920 in his paper "The Constant Error in Psychological Ratings". Thorndike asked military commanding officers to rate their subordinate soldiers on a range of qualities, leadership, physical appearance, intelligence, loyalty, and dependability were among the traits listed.

Thorndike wanted to know how ratings of one quality influenced ratings of others. He discovered that high ratings for one quality led to high ratings for others, while low ratings for one quality led to lower ratings for others.

He found the correlations "too high and too even." "For example, the average correlation between physique and intelligence is.31; physique and leadership is.39; and physique and character is.28."


Thorndike's theory states that people tend to form an impression of someone's personality or traits based on one unrelated trait. This can be perceived positively or negatively. In either case, such subjective judgment can impair your ability to evaluate the person's other traits.

Solomon Asch, a psychologist, expanded on Thorndike's work. He proposed that first impressions shape people's opinions of others.

Positive first impressions can lead to positive assumptions about someone's skills and abilities. A bad first impression can lead to wrong assumptions about a person's character, such as laziness or apathy.

The Halo Effect in One's Mind

There are two different types of the halo effect. They are known as physical attractiveness and likability, which means that if someone is physically attractive or easy to get along with, we tend to perceive them positively across other traits. For example, research has found that people who have a high degree of physical attractiveness are also usually considered to be more intelligent, socially competent, and confident. On the other hand, someone who is easy to get along with will appear as a whole package of positive traits. They're likely going to seem even smarter than they are!

However, people might perceive these characteristics differ depending on where you live or your cultural background. For example, in Western countries where people are more individualistic and less collectivist, the halo effect is likely to be stronger. This means that you're going to perceive others based on what you like about them compared with someone who lives somewhere else.

The Halo Effect's Impact

The halo effect could have an impact in a variety of real-life scenarios.

The Halo Effect in Education

The halo effect may be important in educational settings. Less attractive teachers may interact with students differently. Earlier research found that teachers had higher expectations of kids who were more attractive. 2

Another study looked at over 4,500 students' grades. Then, 28 people rated the students' attractiveness (based on a student ID photo) from 1 (very unattractive) to 10. (very attractive). Following this, students were grouped into three categories: below-average, average, and above-average.

The researchers then compared students' grades between the traditional classroom and online classes. Students who were rated as above-average in appearance got lower grades in online courses than in traditional classes.

That is, the halo effect can affect how teachers treat students and how students perceive teachers. In one study, students rated warm and friendly instructors as more attractive, appealing, and likable.

The Halo Effect in Film

Film reviews are also a place where this phenomenon has been observed. It's easy to give someone positive reviews if they're attractive, even if they're not particularly talented as an actor. This effect can also work the other way around: if you don't like a celebrity's personality or filmography, you're likely to pass judgment on their appearance as well!

One study found that movie critics were more willing to give positive reviews to attractive actresses even when they had previously reviewed the same movies with less attractive stars. It's important to note that this isn't always true; sometimes, people are harder on celebrities who fit our stereotypes about them. For example, if you think someone is dumb (like Paris Hilton), then it might be easier for them to get a good review from you because they won't challenge your expectations.

In addition, another study found that when an actress was paired with an attractive male star in romantic comedies, she was more likely to receive positive reviews. This is similar to the halo effect because we assume that if someone appears on screen together, then they must be in a relationship. As you can see, the halo effect has the potential to influence film reviews too!

The Halo Effect in Business

Another place where this phenomenon might take place is within hiring practices. If an employer primarily hires good-looking people and expects them to perform well at work, then it could end up affecting their work performance. We might do this because we think that attractive people are more competent and likely to be successful in the future.

This is a major problem, especially if your company doesn't take into account other factors such as past work experience or achievements. If you only hire good-looking employees who don't have much experience but they're high-performing, then the company might not be as successful. Instead of hiring people based on their appearances, it's important to look at other factors too!

Positive Traits in General

Moreover, research has found that when we meet someone new and they seem like a positive person, we tend to assume that they have lots of good traits. In other words, if someone appears to be likable, we automatically think that they're also intelligent, capable, and skilled.

This is known as the halo effect because it's similar to how people can look extremely attractive or unattractive overall; when you first meet someone who seems friendly, then you might view them more positively across other areas too.

The halo effect can influence how we perceive others and make judgments about them based on what we like. However, it also tends to happen in other situations too such as within film reviews or when we meet someone new! The next time you see a good-looking star, don't assume they're going to be a good actor just because you like their appearance.

Are you aware of your bias?

Given the importance of the halo effect in our lives, distinguishing biases from facts can be difficult. By taking positive steps toward thinking more objectively about others, you can actively work to reduce such subjective opinions.

Because the halo effect suggests that people judge others quickly based on first impressions, it's a good idea to slow down your thought process.

We previously discussed your hypothetical coworker Dave and how your boss has questioned you about his leadership abilities. Rather than responding quickly, ask your boss to give you a day to fully consider their proposal.

Then you might want to speak with Dave to see if he'd make a good team leader. Slowing down and gathering all of the facts can help you avoid the halo effect's potentially harmful side effects.


We've all encountered the halo effect, in which we pass judgment on another person based on a single attribute, whether correctly or incorrectly. Being aware of this phenomenon can assist you in breaking this subjective cycle.

Think about how your overall impressions of someone can influence your evaluations of other characteristics.

Not only will you make more objective, informed decisions, but you will also become a better person as a result.

Do you think a candidate who is good at public speaking is also smart, kind, and hardworking? Is it possible to be both attractive and compelling at the same time?

Even knowing about the halo effect doesn't help us avoid its influence on our perceptions and decisions. The halo effect is one of many biases that allow quick decisions but also contribute to judgment errors.

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