The halo effect
is a cognitive bias whereby one trait (characteristic of a person or object) influences another trait or traits of that person or object. This is very common among physically attractiveness. Physically attractive persons are assumed have more socially desirable traits, live happier lives, and become more successful than unattractive people.
Founder of The Halo Effect
Edward Lee "Ted" Thorndike was an American psychologist who spent nearly his entire career at Teachers College, Columbia University. His work on animal behavior and the learning process led to the theory of connectionism and helped lay the scientific foundation for modern educational psychology...
was the first to support the halo effect with empirical research
Empirical research is a way of gaining knowledge by means of direct and indirect observation or experience. Empirical evidence can be analyzed quantitatively or qualitatively...
. Thorndike’s main contribution to psychology was the creation of many theories to educational psychology. He published over 500 books that supported his theories in psychology. A few years after Thorndike was elected the president of the American Psychological Association wehre he began his study of the Halo Effect.
Thorndike’s first study of the Halo Effect was published in 1920. The study included two commanding officers that were asked to evaluate particular qualities of their soldiers. The point of this study was for Thorndike to see how the results of one characteristic affected another characteristic result. The characteristics the officials evaluated their soldiers on included physical attributes, intellect, leadership skills, and personal qualities. The directions in the experiment implied what qualities the commanding officers were rating each of the four categories on.
—The commanding officer takes under consideration the neatness, voice, physique, bearing, and energy of the soldier. Once he evaluates the officer the commanding officer is to select which officer displays the highest rating and which one displays the lowest.
—The commanding officer takes under consideration the rate of learning the officer is capable of going at, how agile the officer is to grasp the particular perspective of teaching the commanding officer does, and the capability of problem solving. The commanding officer selects the highest rated officer as well as the lowest rated officer in this category also.
—The commanding officer looks at different leadership skills such as how decisive, reliable, tactic, inspirational, initiating the officer is. Also how respectable and loyal they are. They then take the highest and lowest rating of this category as well.
—These qualities the commanding officer rates include the dependability, loyalty, responsibility, selflessness, and cooperation the officer is able to show. The commanding officer then takes the highest and lowest personal quality ratings in this category.
Thorndike's experiment showed how there was too much of a correlation in the responses of the commanding officers. In Thorndike's review, "A Constant Error In Psychological Ratings" he states, "The correlations were too high and too even. For example, for the three raters next studied the average correlation for physique with intelligence is .31; for physique with leadership, .39; and for physique with character, .28" (Thorndike pg. 27). The ratings of one of the special qualities of an officer tend to start a trend in the rating results. If an officer had a particular "negative" attribute given off to the commanding officer, it would correlate in the rest of his qualities' results.
The correlation in the Halo Effect experiment was concluded to be a halo error. The Halo Error shows that the officers relied mainly on general perception of certain characteristics that determined the results of their answers.
What Beauty Is Good
Dion and Berscheid conducted a study in 1972 to reconfirm if Thorndike’s research about the halo effect was correct. Before the research was started they based there work off of previous research that had been done. It was found in previous studies that attractive individuals were to have more desirable personality traits than unattractive people. Some of those traits include: honesty, kind, and sociable. To confirm if some of these traits were true, the authors designed two research questions: (a) whether physically attractive stimulus persons, both male and female, are assumed to posses more socially
desirable personality traits than unattractive persons (B) whether attractive individuals are expected to lead better lives than unattractive individuals.
They also want to determine if physically attractive individuals are expected to be better husbands, wives, better parents, more successful socially, and career wise
than unattractive individuals.
A total of 60 college students from the University of Minnesota were apart of the experiment, half being males and half being females. Each of the subjects were given three different sets of photos to examine. All of which were pre-determined and selected by the researchers. The researchers selected three different photos half being females and the other half being males. All of the photos were of other college aged students that were of the same age of the subjects. Of the three different photos, one was of an physically attractive looking person, average attractiveness, and one of an unattractive individual. In the first booklet the subjects were informed that the researchers wanted the subjects perception of the individuals in the photos. It was mentioned that the persons in the photos were not interested in the subjects personality attributes. Such as politeness and other factors usually in important social situations The researchers also made sure that the subjects were honest when judging the photos. The subjects then judged all three of the photos of 27 different traits. These traits include: how altruistic, conventional, self-assertive, exciting, stable, emotional, dependent, safe, interesting, genuine, sensitive, outgoing, sexually permissive, sincere, warm, sociable, competitive, obvious, kind, modest,
strong, serious, sexually warm, simple, poised, bold, and sophisticated. The
subjects rated each characteristic on a scale of 1-3. 1 as it least represented trait for that person, 2
as a intermediate amount, and 3 as a positive trait that individuals holds.
On the next page in the booklet, the subjects were asked to rate the photos (in the
same ranking scale) of what they believe those persons friendliness, enthusiasm,
physical attractiveness, social poise, and trustworthiness.
In the third section of the booklet, the subjects were to determine happiness
about of the subjects in the pictures for the rest of their life. This section of
questions were to help answer the research questions the researchers had
questioned earlier. By answering this question it would help find if the subjects
believe that more attractive individuals will have more happier and successful lives
than unattractive people. Also, it will determine if the more attractive you are the
more likely you will have more number of life experiences than someone who is
average or below average attraction wise. The following are the questions that were
to be answered based on the future of the photos: martial happiness (most likely to
get divorced), parietal happiness (most likely to be a good parent), social and
professional happiness (most likely to experience life fulfillment), and total
happiness (the summary of the previous questions.
On the last section of the booklet the subjects were to determine the amount
of career success he or she would have over there lifetime. The subjects were given
30 different jobs of which they the individuals would most likely have a career in. Of
those 30 jobs, they were put in ten different categories. One of the questions given
was: Army sergeant (low status), Army captain (medium status), and Army Colonel
(high status. From this the subjects were to rate what they foresee with the
individuals in the photos. The subjects were to rate on a 1-3 scale once again. 1 was
scene as low level occupation for the individual, 2 as a moderate status job, or 3 as a
high level occupation for that individual.
The results found that the researcher's hypothesis were correct. The subjects
had tremendously believed that more attractive people will have more socially
desirable personality traits than unattractive individuals. This showed that many of
subjects in section one of the booklet felt that the more attractive the individuals
were the more likely they were to have carry those 27 personality traits.
Once again the hypothesis were correct when a high percentage of the
subjects believed that attractive persons are very likely to secure high/prestigious
jobs compared to those who are aren’t as attractive. This was shown through the
results that found occupational status of person whose unattractive is 1.70, average
attractiveness 2.02, and attractive 2.25. It was also recorded that the attractive
individuals would live happier lives, have a happy marriage, be better parents, and
have more of a fulfillment of life than the unattractive individual. The results also
indicated that the average looking individual would have higher status in all of those
categories, yet not as much as the attractive individual had received.
As more the research was concluded, it was found that the higher amount of
socially desirable traits, happiness, success, likelihood of marriage, and career
success were all the most appointed to attractive individuals. The unattractive
individuals were in all five of those categories were lower than those of an average
looking individuals. While the attractive individual was seen as more higher than
the average looking individual in all five of the cases.
The results also found that people believe attractive individuals will find
marriage before the average or unattractive individuals will. It was also noted that
even some of the unattractive individuals might not even marry at all.
In summary, the halo effect was greatly shown throughout this experiment.
The research concluded that the subjects believed that the physical attractive individuals
have more socially desirable traits. Which will then lead the individuals to have
more success in an occupation, marriage, being a parent, and happiness in life rather
than the lesser attractive persons.
Supporting Evidence of the Halo Effect
Landy's Task Evaluation as a Function of the Performers Physical Attractivenes
also reconfirmed Dion’s and Thorndikes
results about the halo effect. The author’s expected that physical attractiveness
would influence the evaluation of an individual’s performance on a given
task even when the task isn’t related to physical appearance. To examine if
halo effect is true in these cases the researchers designed an experiment with 60
male undergraduates that were given a short essay to read. Half of those students
would read a well written essay and other half would read a poorly written essay.
Of those students one third of the students were manipulated to believe that the
essay was written by an attractive looking female, another third were shown the
author was unattractive female, and the last third were not shown any picture of the
author. Both essays were over the same topic and were about the same length. To
make sure these essays were well written or poorly written 30 different
undergraduates read the essay with a scale of 1-9 with 1 being the poorest and 9 being the best
before the study was conducted.
The results showed that the subjects significantly gave greater evaluations to
the more attractive individual. The researchers averaged the results from both the
good and poor essays. For the good essay the attractive person it averaged 6.7, 6.6
for the control, and 5.9 for unattractive individual. On the poor essay there as even
larger gap. The attractive photo was slightly lower averaging 5.2, the control at 4.7,
and the unattractive averaging 2.7. These results showed that people are more
willing to give physically attractive individuals the benefit of the doubt when the
performance is below standard. In conclusion the results support that the halo effect theory. It reconfirms that people tend to let physical attractiveness judge he
or she’s evaluation of a performance even when the physical appearance does not
The Halo Error showed up in other experiments following Thorndike's study. Symonds did a similar experiment as Thorndike's teachers evaluated characteristics of their students. His results were almost parallel to Thorndike where the answers correlated very well with each other. Symonds saw that the results in his experiment showed the effects of halo error were a result of the traits being very difficult to measure without having a particular perception of another trait. Other philosophers have concluded that the two different types of halo that can improve the accuracy of results are: true and illusionary. 
True Halo is the results of a study being based off of the true consistency of particular traits. This means that two traits may have correlation results because they reflect each other. Illusionary Halo consists of inaccurate results based on assumptions of traits. The rater of the study may have a particular perception of the person/object being evaluated and determine results unknown based off of assumptions. 
Halo Effect Effects Among Jurors
There has been significant research that has found that the halo effect is
often common in the judicial courts. Research has found that socially desirable
traits are making attractive individuals more likely to get a lesser sentencing or even
not as likely to be found guilty. Etran (1974) found that subjects were more
generous when giving out sentencing’s to attractive individuals than an unattractive
individual (cite). Even when the same exact crime was committed. One of the
major reasons why this could happen is due persons with high attractiveness are
seen as more likely to have a brighter future in society due to the socially desirable
traits he or she posses. Monahan (1941) did another study on social workers who
are accustomed to interacting with people from all different types of backgrounds.
There study found that the majority of these social workers found it very difficult for
beautiful looking people to be guilty of a crime.
A study by Harold Sigall and Nancy Ostrove found interesting information
when it comes to halo effect with judicial judgments. The study used 60 male and 60
female undergraduates. In the study there were two different sceneios, with one
being a burglary and other being a swindle The first crime was a burglary illegally
obtained a key and stole $2,200. The swindle crime was with a woman
manipulating a male to invest $2,200 into a business that female had fabricated. The
results found that when the offense was attractive-unrelated (burglary)
the unattractive individual was punished much more server than the attractive
individual (cite). While when the offense was attractiveness related (swindle) the
attractive individual was punished much more than the unattractive individual
(cite). Therefore, the attractive burgular got off very easily, showing that subjects
believe an attractive person wouldn’t commit such a low crime. Yet, while the
attractive swindler would have to pay much more for the crime than an unattractive
person. This demonstrated that the subjects believe attractive people are more
likely to manipulate someone off of there looks than someone who is unattractive.
Criticism of Theory/Limitations
Several research articles have suggested the halo effect is not
as prevent as research has shown. Kaplan wrote an article entitled, “Is Beauty
Talent? Sex Interaction in the Attractiveness Halo Effect” that attempted to
replicate Landy’s research. Through Kaplan’s research he found much of his
results very similar to Landy’s. Kaplan reported that the creativity, ideas, style,
quality, intelligence, sensitivity, talent, and ability were all higher when the author
was scene as attractive than when the author was shown as unattractive (cite). Yet,
Kaplan found there were limitations in Landy’s study that made his results different
than his. Landy’s study had only used men as subjects, while Kaplan used half males
and half females. Although, Landy had excellent results about how the halo effect is
often used, it was generalization that females also think the same way as males.
Kaplan found that the halo effect among women is that biases is limited to the
judgment of opposite sex individuals. Meaning that women are less
influenced on their evaluations by the attractiveness of other females, but they can
be affected by the attractiveness of males.
One fallacy that has been present through the halo effects research is
jealousy. It has been noted that jealousy of an attractive individual could be one of
the major factors into making a decision about a person. During the course of
evaluating someone is not as attractive as the person they are evaluating might
receive a much lower grade. For instance if a student asks the professor how he or
she can raise there grade, the professor might actually give the student a lower
grade due their looks. This could occur because the professor thinks the student
knows they’re good looking and believe they can get away with things due their
This concept was reconfirmed with Landy and Sigall’s work found that
people tend to discriminate against attractive members of the same sex (Kaplan).
Dermer and Thiel (1975) found that this was more prevalent among females than
males. The authors found that females would describe the physically attractive
females as having socially undesirable traits that would make them less desirable
In conclusion demonstrates the opposite of the halo effect, which is known as
the horn effect.
Reverse halo effect
A corollary to the halo effect is the reverse halo effect where individuals, brands or other things judged to have a single undesirable trait are subsequently judged to have many poor traits, allowing a single weak point or negative trait to influence others' perception of the person, brand or other thing in general.
One example, according to a post in the Guardian
The Guardian, formerly known as The Manchester Guardian , is a British national daily newspaper in the Berliner format...
is related to Hugo Chavez
Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías is the 56th and current President of Venezuela, having held that position since 1999. He was formerly the leader of the Fifth Republic Movement political party from its foundation in 1997 until 2007, when he became the leader of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela...
. They write that "some leaders can become so demonised that it's impossible to assess their achievements and failures in a balanced way."
As a business model
In brand marketing
Marketing is the process used to determine what products or services may be of interest to customers, and the strategy to use in sales, communications and business development. It generates the strategy that underlies sales techniques, business communication, and business developments...
, a halo effect is one where the perceived positive features of a particular item extend to a broader brand. It has been used to describe how the iPod
iPod is a line of portable media players created and marketed by Apple Inc. The product line-up currently consists of the hard drive-based iPod Classic, the touchscreen iPod Touch, the compact iPod Nano, and the ultra-compact iPod Shuffle...
has had positive effects on perceptions of Apple's other products. The effect is also exploited in the automotive industry
The automotive industry designs, develops, manufactures, markets, and sells motor vehicles, and is one of the world's most important economic sectors by revenue....
, where a manufacturer may produce an exceptional halo vehicle
in order to promote sales of an entire marque. Modern cars often described as halo vehicles include the Dodge Viper
The first prototype was tested in January 1989. It debuted in 1991 with two pre-production models as the pace car for the Indianapolis 500 when Dodge was forced to substitute it in place of the Japanese-built Stealth because of complaints from the United Auto Workers, and went on sale in January...
, Ford GT
The Ford GT is a mid-engine two-seater sports car. Ford Motor Company produced the Ford GT for the 2005 to 2006 model years. The designers drew inspiration from Ford's GT40 race cars of the 1960s.- Development :...
, and Acura NSX.
Despite hopes that by London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...
's hosting the 2012 Olympic Games
The Olympic Games is a major international event featuring summer and winter sports, in which thousands of athletes participate in a variety of competitions. The Olympic Games have come to be regarded as the world’s foremost sports competition where more than 200 nations participate...
there would be a boost to local business, the very limiting "2006 Olympics Act" didn't allow for that. Marina Hyde, writing in the Guardian
The Guardian, formerly known as The Manchester Guardian , is a British national daily newspaper in the Berliner format...
says "so much for the "halo effect" for UK businesses."
Used with non-profit organizations
The term has also been used in regard to human rights
Human rights are "commonly understood as inalienable fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being." Human rights are thus conceived as universal and egalitarian . These rights may exist as natural rights or as legal rights, in both national...
organizations who use their status but move away from their stated goals. For example, Gerald M. Steinberg
Gerald M. Steinberg is an Israeli academic and political scientist.-Biography:Gerald M. Steinberg obtained his doctorate in government from Cornell University, in 1981. M.A. Government Department, Cornell University, 1978. M.Sc. Physics Department, University of California, San Diego, 1975. B.A...
, the founder and president of NGO Monitor
NGO Monitor is a non-governmental organization based in Jerusalem, Israel whose stated aim is to generate and distribute critical analysis and reports on the output of the international NGO community for the benefit of government policy makers, journalists, philanthropic organizations and the...
, claims that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) take advantage of a "halo effect" and are "given the status of impartial moral watchdogs" by governments and the media
Mass media refers collectively to all media technologies which are intended to reach a large audience via mass communication. Broadcast media transmit their information electronically and comprise of television, film and radio, movies, CDs, DVDs and some other gadgets like cameras or video consoles...
In 1977, social psychologist Richard Nisbett demonstrated that even if we were told that our judgments have been affected by the halo effect, we may have no awareness of when the halo effect influences us.
- Affect heuristic
The affect heuristic is a heuristic in which current affect influences decisions. Simply put, it is a "rule of thumb" instead of a deliberative decision...
- Association fallacy
An association fallacy is an inductive informal fallacy of the type hasty generalization or red herring which asserts that qualities of one thing are inherently qualities of another, merely by an irrelevant association. The two types are sometimes referred to as guilt by association and honor by...
- Attribute substitution
Attribute substitution is a psychological process thought to underlie a number of cognitive biases and perceptual illusions. It occurs when an individual has to make a judgment that is computationally complex, and instead substitutes a more easily calculated heuristic attribute...
- Confirmation bias
Confirmation bias is a tendency for people to favor information that confirms their preconceptions or hypotheses regardless of whether the information is true.David Perkins, a geneticist, coined the term "myside bias" referring to a preference for "my" side of an issue...
- List of cognitive biases