A Complete Guide to Halo Effect: With Definitions and Tips

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 26 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

When an individual exhibits traits such as leadership and charisma, it's easier to associate other positive attributes with them. This type of cognitive bias is called the halo effect, and it functions in several spaces that influence the way people interact with others. If you're considering a career as a psychologist or are interested in understanding more about this cognitive bias and its influence on workplace interactions, exploring the halo bias effect can be beneficial. In this article, we discuss the halo effect, examine how it impacts different situations, share tips to counter the bias of this effect and compare it to the horn effect.

What is the halo effect?

The halo effect is a social-psychological concept that claims that positive impressions of people, products and brands in one area positively influences an individual's feelings in another unrelated area. The word ‘halo' refers to a circle of light placed around or above the head of a person to honour their sanctity. Numerous ancient paintings depict notable men and women with halo light around their heads. As a result, observers form favourable judgments about the characters shown in the paintings. Similarly, according to the concept of the halo bias effect, specific characteristics of an individual leads an observer to make a generalising conclusion about that person.

An individual's perceived negative or positive trait can form a figurative 'halo' around the overall impression of that individual. For instance, an observer may perceive a tall or attractive individual as being competent and trustworthy, even though there is no direct correlation of looks or height with competence.

Impact of the halo bias effect

It may be quite surprising to observe that this bias effect is present in just about every aspect of an individual's daily life. Examples of certain situations include:

At the workplace

There are several ways that the halo bias effect can impact individuals' perceptions in a work setting. For instance, you may assume a well-groomed colleague has an excellent work ethic. In contrast, you may judge another colleague in casual clothing as not having the same level of work ethic, though this may be completely untrue. Similarly, this effect is one of the most common biases affecting performance reviews and appraisals. Managers may sometimes rate employees based on the perception of a single attribute instead of considering their total contributions and regular performances.

This cognitive bias can also affect the promotion process within a company. Sometimes, managers may promote an individual who is good at public speaking, without considering the fact that they may be weak in other essential leadership areas. If you work in a management role, it's essential to ensure that incorrect perceptions do not influence your decision which may cause you to overlook the right individual for the promotion.

Related: How to Create a Positive Workplace Culture (With Benefits)

At the educational institution

The halo bias effect may sometimes play a role in educational settings also. Sometimes, it may impact how educators treat students and how students perceive their educators. For instance, teachers may interact differently with students based on their perception of the students' overall appearance and manner, although this doesn't directly relate to performance. If you work in education, it's important to reflect on this bias and ensure you're assessing all students fairly.

In the healthcare and medical field

Unfortunately, the halo bias effect can also lead to creating perceptions in the healthcare and medical field. For example, a doctor may judge a patient based on their appearance without running tests first. Similarly, judging somebody's health status based on first impression is also common. As a medical professional, it's important to be aware of these biases so you can actively avoid them and treat all patients fairly.

For marketing campaigns

Marketers can use the halo bias effect intentionally to influence customers to purchase a particular product or service. For instance, when a celebrity endorses a particular product, the customers' positive perception of that individual may influence their attitude towards the product, and they may end up purchasing it. In another example, marketers for a sports drink company may use a prominent and well-liked sportsperson to advertise their drinks. This may cause people to associate the drink associate with the athlete's performance and positive attributes.

Similarly, the way a company brands and markets its products can also determine if you may like the end result. For example, companies that label food products as conventional or organic typically receive higher ratings overall, and customers are willing to pay more for them.

Related: Enhance Your Decision-Making With Deductive Reasoning

Tips to counter the halo bias effect

There are several simple strategies for managing the effects of this bias. These strategies are essential to reduce the likelihood of incorrect decisions due to this cognitive bias. Here's a list of points you may consider to control subjective feelings:

Be conscious of your judgement

Being mindful of your judgement is the first step towards overcoming cognitive bias. When you meet new people, keep in mind the harmful consequences of forming a first impression. Remind yourself of previous judgement errors when you tend to form biased opinions. Try asking a series of questions about the individual you see through a subjective approach:

  • What do you believe to be accurate about this individual?

  • What judgments have you drawn about them?

  • What assumptions have you made?

  • What inferences can you validate?

  • What inferences can you not support?

  • What information did you use to arrive at these assumptions?

  • Did you look at the complete picture? Is it possible that you may have missed out on something?

Take time to process information

Take time to process information to help you consider alternatives before forming quick biased conclusions and any subsequent decisions. For instance, avoid making a recruitment decision right after the interview. Instead, you may consider prolonging the final decision by carefully evaluating the candidate's CV and performance during the interview. If required, you may even schedule another panel meeting for the next day to help you get to know the candidate better.

Related: How to Avoid Ageism During Your Job Search (With CV Tips)

Follow a systematic approach

By following a systematic approach, you can engage your analytical reasoning skills and avoid cognitive biases. For instance, in the interview context, you could prepare a list of must-have criteria and force yourself to evaluate each requirement before making a choice. Then, make sure you have clear evidence for your evaluations to help you select the right candidate.

Related: The Importance of Critical Thinking in the Workplace

Consider the facts

Remember that first impression are often subjective. You form a first impression based on what you notice about an individual rather than any factual information you have about them. So it's important to consider hard facts and use some logic instead of being influenced by perceptions. Paying attention to facts can also help you decide when trying to choose a product or make any other decision.

Have an excellent mental energy

It's essential to be in a good mental state when making your evaluations. Lack of mental energy may increase your reliance on automatic processing. As a result, you end up letting your brain manipulate you into making inaccurate judgements. You may meditate, take a walk or have a good night's sleep before making important decisions.

What is the difference between the halo bias effect vs. the horn effect?

The halo and horn effects are cognitive biases that lead to a quick biased perception based on certain characteristics instead of their actual skills or qualifications. Understanding these biases can help you avoid letting them impact your personal and professional relationships, and also improve your interpretations of marketing campaigns. The halo bias effect is the positive overall impression of an individual, brand or entity based on how you felt about it during previous instances. In contrast, the horn effect is the straight opposite of the halo bias effect, where some negative traits influence your perception of another individual, brand or entity.

While the halo effect gives unfair advantages to individuals, the horn effect undermines an impartial assessment of a person's skills, abilities and merits. An example of the horn effect may be that an individual is more likely to assume that an unattractive person is morally inferior to a physically attractive person, in spite of the lack of relationship between physical appearance and morality. In another example, if someone doesn't like how a product looks, they may not purchase it despite its potential benefit.

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