What is the Halo Effect in Psychology?

Halo effect

The halo effect , halo effect or halo effect , is a type of cognitive bias in which our general impression of a person influences the way we feel and think about your character . Essentially, your overall impression of a person (“He’s good!”) Affects your assessments of that person’s specific characteristics (“He’s also smart!”).

A great example of the halo effect in action is our general impression of celebrities.

Since we perceive famous people as attractive, successful and friendly, we often also tend to see them as smart, kind and funny.

Halo effect – The idea of ​​”if it’s beautiful is good”

Halo Effect Definitions

“Also known as the ‘stereotype of physical attractiveness’ or ‘principle of what is beautiful is good’, the halo effect, at the most specific level, refers to people’s habitual tendency to evaluate attractive individuals more favorably in their traits of personality or characteristics than those that are less attractive . Halo effect is also used in a more general sense to describe the overall impact of the pleasant personality, or some specific desirable characteristic, in creating biased judgments of the target person in any dimension. Thus, feelings often outweigh cognitions when it comes to evaluating others. ”

Free translation from (Standing, LG, in The SAGE Encyclopedia of Social Science Research Methods, Volume 1, 2004)


In a study done in 1915 with employees of two large industrial companies, it was found that the appearance of the same man was correlated to a number of different characteristics such as intelligence, technical ability, reliability, etc. Classifications were apparently affected by a marked tendency to think of the person in general as good enough or inferior to infer the judgments of qualities by this general feeling. This same error constantly floods classifications of special characteristics, such as a halo or halo belonging to the individual as a whole, appeared in officers’ assessments by his superiors in the Army. ”

Free translation from (Thorndike, EL, “A Constant Error in Psychological Ratings,” 1920)

The History of the Halo Effect / Aura Effect / Halo Effect

Psychologist Edward Thorndike first coined the term in a 1920 article entitled ” The Constant Error in Psychological Ratings .” (“The constant error in psychological assessments”). In the experiment described in the document, Thorndike asked commanding officers in the army to assess a variety of qualities in his subordinate soldiers. These characteristics included things like leadership, physical appearance, intelligence, loyalty and reliability .

Thorndike’s goal was to determine how assessments of one quality would influence assessments of other characteristics. He found that high scores for a particular quality correlated with high scores for other characteristics, while negative ratings for a specific quality also led to lower ratings for other characteristics.

“The correlations were too high and too even,” wrote Thorndike ”For example, for the three reviewers:

  • average correlation of physicist with intelligence is 0.31
  •  lead physicist, 0.39
  • physical with temperament, 0.28

So why do our general impressions of a person create this halo that influences our assessments of specific traits?

Researchers have found that attractiveness is a factor that can play a role. Several studies have found that when we evaluate people as having good looks, we also tend to believe that they have positive personality traits and that they are smarter . One study even found that jurors were less likely to believe that attractive people were guilty of criminal behavior .

However, this attraction stereotype can also be a double-edged sword. Other studies have found that while people are more likely to attribute a range of positive qualities to attractive people, they are also more likely to believe that good-looking individuals are futile, dishonest, and likely to use their attractiveness to manipulate people. others.


  • “In the classroom, teachers are subject to the classification error due to the halo effect when evaluating their students. For example, a teacher who sees a well-behaved student may tend to assume that the student is also bright, diligent and committed before the teacher has objectively assessed the student’s ability in these areas. When these types of halo effects occur, they can affect ‘pass rates in certain areas of functioning and can even affect students’ grades.
    “(Rasmussen, Encyclopedia of Educational Psychology, Volume 1, 2008)
  • “In the work environment, the halo effect is more likely to show up in a supervisor’s assessment of a subordinate’s job performance. In fact, the halo effect is probably the most common bias in performance evaluation. Think about what happens when a supervisor evaluates a subordinate’s performance. The supervisor can highlight a single characteristic of the worker, such as enthusiasm, and allow the entire assessment to be completed by him to be made based on the main characteristic he believes the employee has. Even if the employee lacks the knowledge or ability to do the job with the required success, if the employee’s work shows enthusiasm, the supervisor may well give him a higher performance rating than is justified by the knowledge or skill.
    “(Schneider, FW, Gruman, JA, and Coutts, LM, Applied Social Psychology, 2012)

The Halo Effect at Work in the Real World

As you read above, the halo effect can influence the way teachers treat students, but it can also affect how students perceive teachers. In one study, researchers found that when an instructor was seen as warm and friendly, students also rated him as more attractive and likeable.

Traders take advantage of the halo effect to sell products and services. When a celebrity is a spokesperson for a particular item, our positive assessments of the individual can spread to our perceptions of the product itself.

Job seekers are also likely to feel the impact of the halo effect. If a potential employer sees the applicant as attractive or pleasant, he is more likely to also see the individual as intelligent, competent and qualified.

So, the next time you try to make an assessment of someone else, whether it’s deciding which political candidate to vote for or which movie to watch on a Friday night, consider how your overall impressions of an individual can influence your ratings of other features. Can your impression of a candidate being a good public speaker make you feel that he is also smart, kind and hardworking? Does thinking that a certain actor is handsome also lead you to think that he is also a convincing actor?

Being aware of the halo effect, however, does not make it easier to avoid its influence on our perceptions and decisions .

by Abdullah Sam
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