The Halo Effect

We are sometimes lured by the Halo Effect, also known as "Physical Attractiveness Stereotype". It is a type of cognitive bias that influences our perceptions of someone based on his or her looks and behaviour. (Halo Effect, n.d.) When we mentally sketch our overall impression of others, we tend to associate a person's physical appearance to a certain personality. For example, we may attain the impression that a smartly-dressed individual is most likely to be intelligent and well-mannered. Or we may assume that an attractive individual is friendly and easy to approach. Although, these examples may sound generalised and may not apply to everyone, I would like to use them to illustrate that our perception of an individual creates a "halo" that causes us to see the individual in our own lens or in the way we presume. (Halo Effect, n.d.)

The Halo Effect was firstly discovered by the psychologist, Edwin Thorndike, in 1920. (Cherry, 2019) He tested this by asking military officers to assess the soldiers' performance based on their physical characteristics such as physique and strength, and their personality traits such as intelligence, leadership, and loyalty. The result showed a strong positive correlation between greater physical characteristics and greater personality traits. (Cherry, 2019) If we summarise this in a single sentence, it will be Good appearance = Good quality. It sounds irrational when we put it this way, doesn't it? What sounds more irrational is that it still exists in our mindset occasionally. Studies have discovered that good-looking people are perceived of having positive personality traits such as being intelligent, funny, likeable, etc. (Cherry, 2019) One particular study found that judges showed a tendency to believe that attractive people were less likely to be guilty of crimes. (Cherry, 2019)

Why don't we look at most of the advertisements in magazines and on billboards? We will probably see star-studded celebrities or drop-dead-gorgeous models. Their endorsement of the product creates an appealing brand image for the product, making it seem more reliable and of high quality (at least for their fans). For instance, they can make some saggy and bizarre clothes trendsetting, even when we initially think that such clothes look like potato sacks. In a way, they can subtly influence our impressions of the product.

Let's imagine a possible scenario in the workplace. An employer may have mentally awarded a smartly dressed and overly enthusiastic employee who is always full of ideas (not necessarily useful) at the meeting with the employee of the year badge but that employee may turn out to be slacking more than a quiet and lackadaisical employee who completes all the tasks without fail and is, in fact, more productive. At school, we all have that one student who is a teacher's pet for many reasons. One of the reasons can possibly be that the student is always neat and tidy, putting up a good appearance. Or, another reason could be that he/she is always attentive in class. Therefore, the teacher can form a good overall impression of the student by zooming into these characteristics and overlooking other personality traits. In these scenarios, both the employer and the teacher are affected by the Halo Effect.

To sum up everything, we need to be aware of the Halo Effect whenever we try to evaluate a person for a potential friend, partner, colleague, or teammate, etc. We cannot let the physical appearance or a certain personality trait overwhelm other characteristics of the person so that we can avoid making faulty judgments and decisions. Nevertheless, I am not implying that attractive people cannot be trusted but am merely stating to be cautious of the angels in disguise.


Cherry, K. (2019, November 18). Why the Halo Effect Influences How We Perceive Others. Retrieved from verywell mind:

Dobelli, R. (2013). The Art of Thinking Clearly. United Kingdom, United States: Sceptre (UK) Farrar, Straus, and Giroux (USA).

Halo Effect. (n.d.). Retrieved from Psychology Today:

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