How the Halo Effect Impacts Us

Does it seem probable when a seemingly nice person is also called smart?  But those are two different traits. Two people walk into an interview: One wearing a cheetos-dust covered hoodie, another wearing a suit. Which person is more likely to be picked? Fashion sense does not measure skill, yet in this scenario it significantly influences our judgement. The theme here is the halo effect. It is part of what is called intuition. The halo effect is one of the ones that we are not even aware of. Being able to judge quickly was an essential tool for our ancestors with vicious animals around every corner. Now that we are in the 21st century, how else does it impact us?


The halo effect is identified when the impression of something in one area significantly influences the opinions of other areas. In other words, the halo effect allows us to judge a book’s content by its cover. Obviously, as more information is received, the prediction can be proved wrong. But the problem lies in the fact that some impressions can last forever. The moment an object or person appears before one’s eyes, the mind fills in all the gaps with the small amount of information initially received. So that first impression really does count a whole lot. There are no second chances. That said, how can one take advantage of the halo effect?


In general terms, intelligence, politeness, attractiveness, respectfulness etc. each impacts the others. It is common doctrine that what is inside one’s heart counts the most. For this article’s purposes, that is true in the sense that an extremely skilled person will be considered nice too. It goes in the other direction too, an appealing instructor is more likely to be recognized as a voice of authority. Seeming well put may significantly affect how skilled one is perceived to be. To reiterate, the first impression really counts for a lot. This shows that one might benefit greatly from cranking up the politeness and energetic meter when presenting oneself to someone(s) for the first time. Not only in the common sense that those are desirable traits in a teammate, but also the fact that they can be conveyed at first glance and will make proving skill a whole lot easier. It is also worthy to note, dressing for success is not old-fashioned, obsolete practice after all.


One impact of the halo effect concerns something every student is deeply affected by: grading. Most major standardized tests require students to be anonymous to graders. This is done to avoid the chance of grader-student transactions and partiality. It can be argued that the same principle should be applied to every test. Test questions that are free response, essays, short-answer etc. are largely graded to the individual grader’s satisfaction. That grader, the teacher, can have a better impression of one student’s skill than another. This can impact the score the student receives. One may argue that teachers are experienced professionals who are objective in their grading. But the topic of this piece would suggest that there is impact; anywhere from low to high, but some impact for sure.


Furthermore, the halo effect may also impact each student’s scores on different questions. Let’s paint a scenario with Question 1 and Question 2. Answer 1 deserves a high/full score and Answer 2 deserves a low score. But the case is being made that the score for Answer 1 may subconsciously skew the grader’s judgement and make Answer 2 a medium. How much the score may be skewed is hard to determine, but there is impact. A solution would be to grade Question 1 for every student and then to grade Question 2 for every student. As mentioned above, the students are also anonymous for best results. A strenuous task for sure, but one necessary to ensure a completely merit-based system.


In conclusion, the halo effect puts assumptions in our individual minds based on small bits of information even when we are not aware of them. The assumptions should be kept from affecting our judgements in an incorrect way. Ideally, one presents information that makes the assumptions in their best interest. The purpose of this article is not to shun the halo effect, as it just may save our lives in some undesired situation. The goal is to accept and take into consideration every factor at play.

Sophomore at Newfield High School in Selden, New York.

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