Implicit Personality Theory & the Halo Effect's Impact on Forming Impressions

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  • 0:05 First Impressions
  • 0:25 Implicit Personality Theory
  • 2:17 The Halo Effect
  • 3:46 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

How do we form impressions? Why do we form impressions? Explore these questions through the implicit personality theory and the halo effect, and test your understanding with a brief quiz.

First Impressions

First impressions are the most important. We hear this wise statement all the time. Now, I don't know if they're always the most important, but the ways that we form impressions actually can have a pretty big psychological impact. So, they're pretty interesting to study. Just take a look, then you can give me your impression.

Implicit Personality Theory

So, how do we form an impression about another person? That's the question behind implicit personality theory. According to this theory, when we meet someone, we absorb the most evident traits and then make general assumptions about that person's personality. So, why is it called implicit? In this sense, implicit means automatic, so these assumptions aren't something we do intentionally or consciously. It's a subconscious reflex, a way for our minds to begin processing information about a person. In fact, you may not even be aware that this is happening.

It's important to note that this process does not work the same way for everyone. It's an individual process that is different depending on your personal history and experiences. Say you have a favorite uncle who wears bow ties. If you meet someone new wearing a bow tie, you're more likely to form a positive impression of that person, because bow ties are a positive part of your personal experience. Maybe your friend, on the other hand, had a really mean teacher who wore a bow tie, so he has a different association with it. Your friend, therefore, is likely to form a negative impression of a person in a bowtie.

Research on impression formation often notes that people weigh some traits more than others. Central traits are the aspects of a person that create a strong impression, while peripheral traits are the aspects that do not create a major impression. Now, while there are some traits that many people focus on, like a sense of humor, central and peripheral traits are really a subjective impression. Researchers found that people tended to focus more on the central traits and occasionally even ignored or misinterpreted peripheral traits. So, while first impressions may be important, they're not necessarily accurate.

The Halo Effect

Now, it's important to be aware of the assumptions you're making so that you don't stereotype people and assume things about them that aren't true. When people over-exaggerate the link between a single trait and someone's personality, this is called the halo effect. Here's the most basic example, the one that gave this theory its name: because a halo denotes holiness, when you see someone in a religious painting with a halo, you assume that person is good. See what you did? You took a single trait, the presence of the halo, and turned it into a generalized assumption about the person's entire personality.

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