What is the Halo Effect and Why Does It Matter

What is the Halo Effect and Why Does It Matter


e all do it. We meet someone new and that first impression has a huge impact on what we think of them thereafter.

Perhaps they are good looking or maybe they are funny. Your impression is instantly a positive one and it colors your better judgement about their other traits.

The same can happen in the opposite direction. Maybe on that first encounter they were an hour late or they were rude or they were being unreasonably arrogant. Whatever else may be true, you already don’t like this person very much.

This act of making assumptions about an individual based on a first impression or single trait is known as the Halo Effect (or Horn Effect if it’s negative).

You never get a second chance to make a first impression.Andrew Grant

The Halo Effect is a cognitive bias where the overall impression of a person influences how we feel and think about his or her character.

For example, if a person you met was extremely generous, you instantly like them and think of them as great in all other ways.

We can all recognize this bias when we think of celebrities. From actors and actresses to athletes and CEOs, people we admire for their ability or appearances or accomplishments, we often assume are also good people when it comes to their other personality traits.

This is so common that the Halo Effect is also known as the what is beautiful is good principle.

A great analogy is the following word exercise. If you read the below sets of words about two individuals, how do you feel about each?
personsIn this scenario, the order of words makes the difference. For Person A, the first thought is intelligent. When we get to stubborn at the end of the list, it doesn’t seem nearly as bad. After all, smart and creative, of course they’re a bit stubborn.

When you look at Person B, you start off on the wrong foot and see stubborn. This already puts them in a negative light. Their other traits don’t hold as much weight now that you’ve had that experience.

This is part of a habitual tendency we have to rate individuals based on a first impression. We judge someone on dimension X, which impacts our judgement of all other dimensions. This is of course irrational, but it also happens frequently.

In the workplace, in relationships, in politics, in hiring, and so on, the halo effect impacts our better judgement. Here’s how to overcome it.


1. Be mindful

It begins with mindfulness. We’re all still exposed to this cognitive bias, whether we like it or not, it’s normal. What does matter is if we let it completely control our judgement after it happens.

We need to be aware of our judgement of others and realize that there’s more to them than what we initially perceive.

2. Isolate the halo (or horns)

Once you start noticing the halo effect, try to understand where it’s coming from. What is the one trait that has thrown off your judgement? What is the halo or the horns?

Once you isolate the trait that is coloring your perspective, you can start to see past it.

3. Look beyond

Finally, look at what else is there. You have judged one trait, but what else is apparent beyond that. Are they really funny or smart or generous? Are they a good person or are you just filling in the gaps?

The key to do this type of assessment is to tackle it one trait at a time. Base your assessment on actual evidence, instead of assumptions, and you’ll get a better sense of what you’re looking at.

Don’t judge a book by its cover.

What’s true for books is also true for people, brands, experiences, and so on. Don’t be too quick to judge because you may be overcome by the halo effect.

Look at traits one by one and see what is truly there.