How not to fall prey to the “halo effect”?
Man among people
If the first impression of a person has developed a positive one, including due to circumstances, then subsequently the plus sign applies to all his features and actions. Many things are forgiven him. If, on the contrary, the first impression is blurred, then no matter how wonderful a person does in the future, he is evaluated through the prism of the primary assessment.
For Russians, this effect can be explained with the help of the proverb “they are greeted by clothes, escorted by the mind.” The only difference is that, due to the influence of the halo effect, they usually “see off” everything with the same clothes. And so that the mind can be discerned behind it, the halo carrier needs to make a lot of effort.
Often it is not possible to overcome prejudice. This is especially noticeable in children’s and teenage groups. For example, if a novice in the class did not develop normal relations and classmates immediately put an unpleasant label on him, often the only solution is to change the class, where you can start from scratch and try again to make a first impression.
What is this phenomenon?
In the 1920s, the American psychologist Edward Thorndike discovered that when evaluating others, we are guided by the perception of individual personality traits – such as, for example, appearance, cheerfulness, talkativeness – and they overshadow everything else. The psychologist called this phenomenon a halo effect or a halo effect.
The halo effect describes an unconscious error of perception: individual qualities of a person – attractiveness, external flaw, exceptional achievements – dominate other qualities unknown to us, which we ourselves think through, complete in the head. The first impression overshadows everything else, creating a halo. In social psychology, the effect is attributed to cognitive distortion.
The most famous case of the effect of the halo effect is Khlestakov from The Examiner.
For example, imagine that you are introduced to a person with amazingly good manners – and in a few minutes you will create in your head the image of a well-groomed, educated, eloquent, charming interlocutor. In other words, one single distinguishing feature (good manners) allows us to conclude about other unknown qualities.
An overweight person is often perceived as lazy, limp, clumsy, or even stupid. Many teachers consider students wearing glasses to be more well-read and even smarter. And, of course, Hollywood stars fall under the halo effect. Since many actors in the audience are associated with the characters they play, and we see them in the reports and on TV as glamorous divas, we believe that they are in real life.
Well, the most famous case of the effect of the halo effect is Khlestakov from The Examiner. The whole society initially accepted him as an auditor, not noticing the obvious inconsistencies and blunders in his behavior and words.
Why does our brain need this effect?
Without the halo effect, many sectors of the economy would simply collapse. “If I wear the same pants as this successful businesswoman, I will make the same impression!” A Chinese accessory instantly turns into a fashionable attribute (and even its price goes up to several hundred euros) if it is noticed and put on by a star or supermodel. That’s how it works.
But why should our brains purposefully trap us? Throughout life, we have to process gigantic amounts of information. We need to navigate with a minimum of information, and for this it is necessary to somehow classify the surrounding objects and subjects, to interact with them. The halo effect simplifies these processes.
If every time we deeply analyzed the entire incoming stream of visual and other stimuli, we would simply go crazy. So in a sense, the halo effect is our defense mechanism. But at the same time, we deprive ourselves of a more objective look, and therefore, we limit our possibilities. And the one whom we “put on” the halo runs the risk of forever remaining in our eyes in the role we had invented for him.
How to overcome the halo effect?
Alas, “disconnecting” the halo is difficult, and often impossible. This time we can notice him in our own perception of another or in the assessment of ourselves, but the next time we will imperceptibly fall under his influence. And although everyone knows the expression “don’t judge a book by its cover,” that’s exactly what we often do.
If the person whom we awarded the halo is important and dear to us, the only antidote is to analyze our impression, decompose it into components: highlight the leading feature that is key to the halo and name the others that went away in our perception due to the halo effect to the second plan. Especially this technique is necessary for managers, HR-specialists making personnel decisions. For example, in Australia, resumes are not accompanied by photographs so that external data does not overshadow the competencies of the applicant.
How would we like to look in the eyes of others and what can we do for this?
Most of us are voters, so we should not fall for the halo effect of politicians who, especially before the election, try to seem extremely kind, open and responsible. And here we should collect information about the candidate ourselves so as not to become a victim of self-deception.
And no one is stopping us from collecting information about ourselves and our own halo – about how others perceive us. We can honestly say that we know about the halo effect phenomenon and offer our interlocutor or colleague a little deeper look at our “halo” and give us a chance to show all our qualities. Directness and sincerity often disarm. You can also think about how we would like to look in the eyes of others and what we can do for this, but in such a way as to remain ourselves.