How the HALO effect unconsciously influences our work

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Appearance has an impact, as various studies have already shown. Whether we like it or not, we tend to judge someone based on their appearance during the first impression. But did you know that based on appearance, we even attribute certain characteristics to someone? In this article, I will explain how we judge people, both professionally and personally, based on the HALO effect.

How the HALO effect unconsciously influences our work
Photo: Christina @ – Unsplash

The origin of HALO

The term HALO was first described in 1920 by Edward Thorndike. In his paper “The Constant Error in Psychological Ratings,” the psychologist investigated how evaluations of one quality spilled over into assessments of other characteristics. For this research, he conducted an experiment in the military. Commanders were asked to evaluate soldiers on qualities such as leadership, physical appearance, intelligence, loyalty, and reliability.

He found that when we positively assess someone on a specific aspect, we automatically do the same for other aspects. The same applied to negative evaluations. Negative assessments of a particular trait led to negative evaluations on other traits as well. For example, if someone was perceived as less loyal, the evaluator was more likely to consider them less intelligent.

Various subsequent studies have shown that appearance plays a significant role in this phenomenon. When we find someone attractive, we are more likely to believe that this person has positive qualities. Attractive job applicants, for instance, are judged to be intelligent, competent, and qualified more quickly than less attractive applicants.


How the HALO effect unconsciously influences our work

However, a new, attractive colleague will not only receive praise for their good looks. There is also a downside. Besides attributing positive traits, people tend to think that attractive individuals are vain and will exploit their appearance.

For women, a good-looking appearance can even work against them when they want to advance in their careers. They are perceived based on their appearance as more gentle and social, qualities that are not necessarily valued at the top of the business world, as described by Dutch social psychology professor Roos Vonk in her book “De eerste indruk.”


Consciously dealing with the HALO effect

Findings from studies on phenomena like the HALO effect often provoke indignation. People believe that they are not like that, that they can separate an attractive appearance from the assessment of skills. In such cases, blame is often shifted to others. Yes, others may be like that, but not me.

I have had many conversations about this and see it as a significant pitfall. Of course, we are all different, and some may be more prone to this than others. But as long as we are not willing to look honestly in the mirror, we will not develop. It is too easy to point fingers at others. If you genuinely want to give someone a fair chance during a job interview, you are obliged to be critical. And not just towards others but also towards yourself. How honestly do you evaluate others?


Best regards,


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