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The Halo Effect: Definition, Advantages & Disadvantages

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  • 0:05 Attractiveness & First…
  • 1:21 The Halo Effect:…
  • 3:13 Advantages & Disadvantages
  • 5:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Erin Long-Crowell
Multiple studies have shown just how much attractiveness matters in our society, even when it shouldn't. In this lesson, we define and discuss the halo effect and how a person's looks can affect our assumptions about that person.

Attractiveness & First Impressions

Look at the individuals in these two photographs:

People tend to assign positive traits to the face deemed more attractive.
Halo Effect Faces

Now, imagine that one person is the hero and one is the villain. Which is which? Most likely, you would assume that the person on the left is the hero and the person on the right is the villain. Why? It's probably because the person on the left appears to be more handsome and fits our typical concept of a hero.

When we were children, we learned that the good are beautiful and the bad are ugly (or at least, not as beautiful). Cinderella, Prince Charming and the other protagonists were much better looking than the stepmother, stepsisters and other antagonists. Even though fictional stories and depictions today don't necessarily follow this 'rule,' it can still be seen in our assumptions about others in the real world.

Everyday, we judge people by their appearance and are judged in return. Our first impression of the attractiveness of an individual affects how we view that person holistically. This is a phenomenon known as the halo effect.

The Halo Effect: Definition & Examples

The halo effect can be defined as the tendency to use global evaluations to make judgments about specific traits. In other words, we use a global characteristic (such as attractive or likable) to determine specific personality traits (such as outgoing or kind). We attribute personality qualities to people we have only seen, even though we have never met them, and the qualities have nothing to do with their looks. This phenomenon happens unconsciously - we are unaware of the bias we develop simply because of a person's attractiveness.

Imagine you were asked to look at head shots of several different people and then predict each person's personality traits. Research suggests that you would most likely attribute positive traits - intelligent, friendly, trustworthy and so on - to those you consider the most attractive. Contrary to what you would think from a name like the 'halo' effect, though, the attributed characteristics don't have to be positive. You would also be likely to attribute negative traits - grumpy, mean, etc. - to those you consider unattractive.

The halo metaphor is used for the phenomenon because one characteristic (in this case, attractiveness) outshines other characteristics and affects our perception when considering additional traits. Additionally, the qualities that are superficially attributed to the attractive or unattractive most commonly deal with social interaction: we tend to think that the beautiful are outgoing and friendly, and the less attractive are shy and reserved.

Advantages & Disadvantages

Individuals often use clothing styles to make personality judgements.
Halo Effect Clothing Example

There are a couple of advantages to the halo effect. Of course, it's desirable to be an attractive person that is well thought of. The beautiful receive preferential treatment simply because people tend to like them more. At work or school, the prettier you are, the more attention you are likely to receive, and the more likely you are to perform better and move up as a result.

Another advantage, in general, is that the halo effect is a type of heuristic, or mental shortcut. It helps us make decisions about others quickly without having to spend a lot of time analyzing their behavior. For example, we assume that someone with an innocent-looking face is honest and trustworthy. Although this saves us time and effort, it can certainly result in false impressions - a disadvantage of the halo effect.

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