The halo effect is a cognitive bias in which an observer’s overall impression of a person, company, brand, or product influences the observer’s feelings and thoughts about that entity’s character or properties. It was named by psychologist edward Thorndyke in reference to a person being perceived as having a halo. Subsequent researchers have studied it in relation to attractiveness and its bearing on the judicial and educational systems. The halo effect is a specific type of confirmation bias, wherein positive feelings in one area cause ambiguous or neutral traits to be viewed positively. Edward Thorndike originally coined the term referring only to people; however, its use has been greatly expanded especially in the area of brand marketing.
The term “halo” is used in analogy with the religious concept: a glowing circle crowning the heads of saints in countless medieval and Renaissance paintings, bathing the saint’s face in heavenly light. The observer may be subject to overestimating the worth of the observed by the presence of a quality that adds light on the whole like a halo. In other words, observers tend to bend their judgement according to one patent characteristic of the person (the “halo”), generalizing towards a judgement of that person’s character (e.g., in the literal hagiologic case, “entirely good and worthy”).
The halo effect works in both positive and negative directions (the horns effect): If the observer likes one aspect of something, they will have a positive predisposition toward everything about it. If the observer dislikes one aspect of something, they will have a negative predisposition toward everything about it.
ROLES OF ATTRACTIVENESS
A person’s attractiveness has also been found to produce a halo effect. Attractiveness provides a valuable aspect of the halo effect to consider because of its multifaceted nature; attractiveness may be influenced by several specific traits. These perceptions of attractiveness may affect judgments tied to personality traits. Physical attributes contribute to perceptions of attractiveness (e.g. weight, hair, eye color). For example, someone who is perceived as attractive, due in part to physical traits, may be more likely to be perceived as kind or intelligent. The role of attractiveness in producing the halo effect has been illustrated through a number of studies. Recent research, for example, has revealed that attractiveness may affect perceptions tied to life success and personality. In this study, attractiveness was correlated with weight, indicating that attractiveness itself may be influenced by various specific traits. Included in the personality variables were trustworthiness and friendliness. People perceived as being more attractive were more likely to be perceived as trustworthy and friendly. What this suggests is that perceptions of attractiveness may influence a variety of other traits, which supports the concept of the halo effect.
The halo effect is also present in the field of brand marketing. One common halo effect is when the perceived positive features of a particular item extend to a broader brand. A notable example is the manner in which the popularity of Apple’s iPod generated enthusiasm for the corporation’s other products. Another example is Subway’s brand image as a “healthy” variety of fast food. The perception of a restaurant as “healthy” causes consumers to underestimate the caloric content of its dishes. Marketers take advantage of the halo effect to sell products and services. When a celebrity spokesperson endorses a particular item, targeted people’s positive evaluation of that individual can influence their perception of the product itself. Job applicants are also likely to feel the impact of the halo effect. If a prospective employer views the applicant as attractive or likeable, they are more likely to also rate the individual as intelligent, competent, and qualified.