The Halo Effect
It is said that the “first impression is the last impression.” Well, if not the last, it surely is a lasting and powerful impression that somehow camouflages the other qualities of a person. “First impression” often leads to the halo effect. The halo effect refers to the perception of one outstanding personality trait to an overly favorable evaluation of the whole personality. It is one of the oldest and most popular psychological phenomena.
The concept of the halo effect was extensively studied and deciphered by the famous American psychologist Edward Thorndike. One of his studies in 1920 elaborated how the officers rated the soldiers on different traits or qualities based upon the first impression. Thus, positive impressions from a person’s single trait create a “halo” that masks any shortcomings they may have. The impression formed by the trait influences to the extent that conclusions, often favorable, are made about the unrelated attributes as well. To understand this better, picture an example of a well-groomed person entering the board room for an interview. The person looks good as they sit calm and poised. This may make the interviewer believe that the person is going to be loyal and hardworking toward their organization. Now, appearing well-groomed has nothing to do with sincerity, loyalty, or hard work. Yet, one trait, that is appearing nice, creating an impression or halo that the person possesses other favorable traits such as loyalty and sincerity.
Researchers suggest that when you present your positive qualities first, you are judged more favorably than you would be had you shown your shortcomings first. Thus, your impression of the other person will be structured largely on the initial evidence.
The halo effect can be negative as well. If your initial impression was not good, your positive traits may be masked because of it. For example, you are having a bad day because of some personal reason, and you end up talking rudely to a stranger. Even if you are the most well-behaved and intelligent person, you may be perceived as someone who lacks ethics and manners. Your good traits will be overlooked. A similar example is of an intelligent person who fumbles and acts awkwardly during an interview because of nervousness. The interviewers may consider the person unfit for the work. Even their merits and achievements may be seen with suspicion.
The halo effect can be unfair at times. The single dominant impression may fool people. You meet someone nice and chivalrous during the first meeting. Even when such a person shows their negative qualities in subsequent meetings, you may overlook those because you are still living under the halo of your first impression. This may allow the person to exploit you emotionally and in other ways as well.
The halo effect may occur in your day-to-day life. You may make impressions about people you meet based on the initial traits. Many times, a happy person is thought to be having a contended life. You will never know the extent to which they may be struggling. They may be needing help and support, but their cheerfulness conceals this. Even in healthcare, a doctor with unorderly hair and creased clothes may be thought of as lazy or not knowledgeable enough by the patient. The reason behind their appearance may be their hard work and dedication toward their patients that give them little time for self-care.
It can be concluded that people and circumstances are a lot more than what initially appears to you. Do not be in a hustle to make conclusions based upon one or two traits of a person. You may lose a good employee or friend this way. A bad decision made under the halo effect may harm you to a great deal. Hence, go slow. Give people the benefit of doubt. Take time in understanding them. Remember, there may be a lot more under the surface. If one quality is pleasing or unlikeable, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot opposite to the observed trait in the person.
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