• December 12, 2023

Breaking Down the Halo Effect: What It Is and How It Works

Have you ever formed an opinion about someone or something based on a single positive trait or characteristic?

If so, you may have experienced the halo effect. This cognitive bias can influence our perceptions and judgments, often leading us to overlook flaws or negative aspects. In this article, we’ll explore the halo effect, how it works, and how to avoid its pitfalls

What is the halo effect?

The halo effect refers to the tendency to generalize our impressions of someone’s overall character to specific traits or qualities, leading us to make biased judgments based on limited information.

The halo effect can shape our perceptions of others and influence our judgments

One remarkable example of the halo effect is people’s overall impression of celebrities. People normally imagine that the stars are stunning, victorious, and often nice, so people also tend to see them as intelligent, kind, and humorous.

Physical appearance is usually a major part of the halo effect. People who are supposed attractive tend to be ranked higher on additional positive traits as well.

The halo effect also makes perceptions of one quality lead to biased judgments of other qualities.

History of The Halo Effect

This term was first introduced by psychologist Edward Thorndike in his 1920 paper titled “The Constant Error in Psychological Ratings.” In this study, Thorndike asked commanding officers in the military to evaluate the qualities of their subordinate soldiers, including leadership, physical appearance, intelligence, loyalty, and dependability.

Thorndike’s goal was to discover how assessments of one quality affected ratings of other characteristics. He discovered that high ratings of a specific quality often correlated with high ratings of other attributes. Conversely, negative ratings of a particular quality frequently led to lower ratings of other characteristics. According to Thorndike,

“The correlations were too high and too even.”

Researchers have found that the halo effect may be influenced by the attractiveness stereotype. Multiple studies have discovered that when we rate someone as good-looking, we also tend to believe that they possess positive personality traits and intelligence. In some cases, jurors were less likely to believe that attractive individuals had committed criminal behavior.

However, Other studies have demonstrated that although we are more likely to attribute positive qualities to attractive individuals, we are also more inclined to believe that good-looking people are vain, dishonest, and likely to manipulate others using their attractiveness

The halo effect is a powerful psychological phenomenon that can impact our decision-making in many areas of life, from hiring and promotions to consumer behavior and political campaigns.

What causes the halo effect?

Several factors contribute to the halo effect.

Confirmation Bias:

People tend to pursue information that verifies their existing beliefs or impressions of someone while ignoring information that contradicts those beliefs.

Cognitive Dissonance:

When we face information that challenges our beliefs or impressions, we may experience discomfort or “dissonance,” directing us to reject or rationalize that information to maintain our existing beliefs.

Physical Appearance:

The most powerful driver of the halo effect is physical appearance. Analysis has found that people who are perceived as attractive are often rated higher on other positive traits as well, such as intelligence, kindness, and competence

This phenomenon is not only prevalent in the workplace but also in marketing where it can have a significant impact on consumer behavior.

Halo effect in marketing

A consumer is drawn to a certain product only because of its attractive packaging, assuming that the product must be of high quality.

This is a perfect example of the halo effect in marketing. The consumer is influenced by a single factor and overlooks other important aspects such as price, features, quality, and benefits.

Research has shown that the halo effect can be a very powerful tool in marketing.

Companies can use it to their advantage by highlighting a single attribute or benefit of their product to create a positive impression in the minds of consumers.

Companies also use celebrities to goodwill to brands.

But, it is crucial to ensure that the attribute being highlighted is relevant and aligned with the overall value proposition of the product.

On the other hand, the halo effect can also work against companies if they fail to deliver on the promise of the highlighted attribute.

For example, if a company promotes its product as eco-friendly, but is later found to have questionable manufacturing practices, and its slogan of protection of the environment, it can damage the brand’s reputation.

As a savvy marketer, it is important to be conscious of the halo effect and its impact on consumer behavior. With the insight of this cognitive tool, you can craft effective marketing messages that resonate with your target audience and drive sales.


Bhattacharjee, A., & Mogilner, C. (2014). Happiness from ordinary and extraordinary experiences

Halo effect on the relationship

As humans, we often associate physical attractiveness with positive qualities such as success, kindness, and sociability, which play a significant role in our relationships.

Recent studies have shown that people who are perceived as attractive tend to be perceived positively in many other qualities of their lives.

Even when it comes to choosing a partner, people rely on common sense to estimate whether they will be seen as attractive by a future partner.

This is where the matching hypothesis comes into play. People tend to choose partners who are roughly at the same level of physical attractiveness as themselves to avoid being rejected by someone who is

Out of their league.”

While physical attractiveness is undoubtedly important in relationships, it is not the only factor.

Humans are complex beings, and our relationships are shaped by a variety of factors, including personality, shared interests, and values.

Ultimately, finding a partner who complements us in these ways is what truly leads to long-lasting and fulfilling relationships.


Dion, K. K., Berscheid, E., & Walster, E. (1972). What is beautiful is good

Halo effect on a website

The halo effect impacts not only our perception of people but also our perception of organizations, products, and communications channels, including websites. If users like one aspect of a website, they’re more likely to judge it positively in the future, and if they have a bad experience, they’ll assume it will happen again and be reluctant to return.

It is assessed that users often judge the overall quality of a website based on a single attribute, such as the quality of its internal search results or its visual appeal. This can lead to unreasonable conclusions, such as assuming that a website is poorly done, and by extension, the company behind it is also not caring about customers, simply because the search results make no sense.

Similarly, a bad user experience during account setup can also impact people’s anticipations for the rest of the service. A study by Lindegaard and Dudek found that even when users encountered high failure rates, they still rated the site highly based on its visual appeal.

It’s important to note that the trait or characteristic used to assess a website or service may not even answer the question posed by the user. For example, someone may say a site is easy to use just because it’s beautiful, but judging beauty is far simpler than judging ease of use.

Therefore, task-based analysis and triangulation of data sources are essential to ensure a positive user experience.


Lindegaard, G., & Dudek, C. (2003). What is this evasive beast we call user satisfaction? 

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