Have you ever witnessed something similar to the picture below?
Same awkward conversation, different resulting opinion. Some may call it being “shallow” or “vain”, but in fact, what she is demonstrating is something we all may be guilty of from time to time.
The brain, obsessed with saving energy, creates shortcuts when making judgments. One of these heuristics causes us to attribute positive traits to people that we find likeable or attractive. This is what is known as the “halo effect”.
The halo effect is a cognitive bias where we let our overall impression of an individual (how hot they are, for example) influence how we assess their other traits (they are smart).
- Celebrity endorsements of a product can make our perception of the product better.
- Job applicants make a better impression if they are attractive.
- Performance evaluations by a manger can be biased because of a single trait such as enthusiasm.
Understanding Our Bias
Knowing that this effect is present is one step in understanding the context of a situation.
To improve our ability to assess people’s skills, personalities, or attributes, we must realize that our judgement may be biased by the feelings we have about the person in front us, regardless of how little or how much we know about them.
We should step back and distance ourselves from “feelings” and focus on “objective data”. Without the halo effect, the woman in the picture above would come to the same conclusion regardless of the individual: “this person is an awkward conversationalist”.
Evaluating employees is where this objective approach is extremely important. It’s easy to let your assessment be tinged by your personal feelings of the person, whether it be your love of their enthusiasm or their upbeat personality. Creating an objective list of criteria before an evaluation will help keep the assessment “strictly professional”.
How the Halo Effect is Used to Judge You
Sometimes we are the ones in the cross hairs of this cognitive bias.
I’ve heard many people complain about how people should not judge you based on your appearance. They take pride in looking and dressing like a slob.
“If someone judges me by my appearance, then I don’t want to be associated with that person anyway,” they say with joy, tipping their proverbial straw hat to me.
That may be well and good for most people, but the idea that you can get through life only associating with “woke” individuals who only judge you by your merits is naïve. Don’t give people a reason to judge you.
Always present the best version of yourself. I’m not saying dress up in a suit and tie every day (though how bad would that be, really?), but at the very least make an effort to be presentable for interviews and networking events. This is contextual for sure—some offices may think less of you for dressing up, but that is where understanding context is key.
People judge you by your appearance, and attribute traits to you dependent on how much they like you. Use this to your advantage by always presenting the best version of yourself. Also, be aware of the “halo effect” as you assess other people. Make sure that your judgement comes from objective data rather than nebulous feelings that stem from appearance or first impressions.