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The Halo Effect: The Trick in Cognitive Biases

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Physical appearance and attractiveness play a big role in our cognition and perception as human being. We often automatically think that people who have attractive appearance are also good people and sometimes we even unconsciously believe they are better in many things compared to others who are not attractive. This is not to say that all people who are attractive are not good; what I mean is this cognitive bias called the halo effect which is basically our brain trick us into thinking that people who are handsome or beautiful or at least has an attractive appearance always possesses many positive traits. Because of this, people trust them easily and give them more help, attention or favour. The halo effect influences our impression and evaluation of someone; creating an idea, usually incorrect and inaccurate, that affects how we perceive them.

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One example where you can see the halo effect working is on how people see celebrities. Usually, celebrities are good-looking and attractive and this is the reason why many people also think they are smart, caring, successful, and virtuous. Conducted as a psychological experiment in the 1920’s by a psychologist named Edward Thorndike, the halo effect are very observable in our daily lives and affects our society on so many levels. This stereotype can sometimes be misleading and even dangerous and needs to be given understanding. We cannot deny that some people use their attractiveness to take advantage and to manipulate others into their will and selfish interests. And even sometimes, contrary to what we think of them, the truth is that they are sociopaths who cannot feel compassion and remorse.       

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The halo effect impact to the society is very noticeable everywhere. You can see these in many important institutions of our society such as in the education/universities, justice system, politics, workplaces/businesses, etc. In education for examples, a study found out that many teachers judges and treat students based on their appearance. Even students in the classroom exhibit the halo effect by giving special attention or treatment to their fellow students that has more attractive appearance, regardless if this students does well or not in class performances. However, this only not affects the students but teachers are also judged by their students according to how they look and present themselves. As we can see, this kind of psychology pervades the social fabric profoundly.      

In the workplace, the halo effect also has serious impacts not only to the workers but also to the climate of the place itself. It reinforces the culture of appraisal based on one’s physical characteristic which has totally nothing to do with the quality of his or her work. Oftentimes, the contribution and the performance of some workers who are doing a good service are overshadowed by another worker’s attractiveness and charisma or even through a simple fervour and attitude. In some areas, it seriously affects the economic aspect of some people. For example, the Journal of Economic Psychology conducted a study that shows how “attractive food servers earn more per year in tips than their unattractive co-workers”. Another example we can take is during job application. In this case, likable and attractive applicants are usually the ones rated as qualified. Lastly, through advertising, marketers use the halo effect to attract customers and convince consumers to avail their products or services. Usually, corporations use attractive celebrities to endorse their product and people believe even though that sometimes what the person says about the product or the company is a lie.        

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In conclusion, people must be aware of these implications and consequences. We must take care not to be misled by this bias. The halo effect distracts and deceives us into committing mistake on our decisions. This even happens on the politics during election on a massive scale. It means it is something we need to think about. Though it is not easy, we must always do our best not to commit errors and misjudgements especially on our biggest and most important decisions in life. Now that you are already aware of this psychological phenomenon, you can now pause and reconsider your biases so that you can make proper assessment on things. Do not let this error of judgment affects your perception, preferences, and long term decisions.

If you want to learn more about the halo effect, check out these links.

Studies about the halo effect:

Articles and videos about the halo effect:

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