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The halo effect or halo effect is a very common phenomenon that is quite common in a wide variety of fields. It can be relevant for literally any format of human relationships and, of course, is of enormous importance for advertising and marketing.

After reading our new article by a Grentana expert, you will learn about what the halo effect is in psychology, how it manifests itself in other areas and situations. We will also talk about what prerequisites influence its appearance, what is the positive and negative impact of this effect, and also about how this phenomenon can be used to promote brands and products.

What is the halo effect? How and when did this term appear?

The halo effect is a distortion of perception (cognitive distortion), in which a person or group of people creates a superficial judgment about another person, object or phenomenon based on the first impression or any expressive features (appearance, behavior, etc.)

The name of this term comes from the word halo – a designation similar to the radiance of the light border surrounding various objects. In a figurative sense, the halo is synonymous with the words “brilliance, honor, glory”, as well as a religious attribute of divinity. This word was formed from the Latin word aureolus – “golden”.

The halo effect was first described by the American psychologist and educator Edward Lee Thorndike in 1920. He conducted a study in which commanders evaluated soldiers according to criteria such as physical fitness, leadership skills, intelligence and personal characteristics. According to the results of the experiment with the halo effect, he found out that a high assessment of the physical development of soldiers positively influenced the assessment of their other qualities.

Later, this cognitive distortion was studied by other well-known psychologists. For example, a study conducted in 1941 by John Monahan showed that a jury is more likely to acquit defendants with attractive appearance. And another group of scientists came to the conclusion that the appearance of a politician has a significant impact on the outcome of his election campaign. They claim that voters trust politicians with serious and strict facial features more than those who look young.

The halo effect in simple words | This is the designation of a radiance-like light border surrounding various objects

And a 2011 study prepared by psychologists Moore, Perrett and Philip showed that the halo effect can extend not only to physical attractiveness, but also to intelligence. They came to the conclusion that if a person is considered smart, they often attribute to him other positive qualities that are not directly related to intelligence: leadership abilities, sociability, etc.

Why does the halo effect occur?

So, in the previous section we talked about what the halo effect means, and now it’s time to describe the causes of its occurrence. Experts believe that the fundamental factor of this phenomenon is emotionally charged information that can create cognitive distortions in human perception.

The origins of the halo effect originated in the consciousness of primitive man, who needed to determine his attitude to strangers, animals, as well as any objects and phenomena as quickly as possible. His safety directly depended on the speed of reaction, since every subject or object encountered could carry a deadly threat. Thus, the halo effect is not just a cognitive distortion, but an ability inherited from our ancestors (once very useful).

In a modern person, such a perception effect can be caused by factors such as:

Visibility. The presence of pronounced features in the appearance of a person or an object can distort its objective assessment. Instead, the impression of him will be made on the basis of this dominant trait alone. It is important that such visibility can be expressed not only in a non-standard appearance, but also in charisma. In simple words, it is the ability to attract, convince and win people over, combined with leadership abilities.

Lack of time. The halo effect especially often manifests itself in cases when you need to make a decision as quickly as possible, and there is simply no time for a balanced analysis. Then our brain has to use primitive tools and make a first impression based on an assessment of appearance or any other noticeable features.

Information overload. Excess information is another common factor in the appearance of the halo effect. When the brain is overloaded, it switches to power saving mode and starts saving resources. Therefore, in such conditions, a person or a group of people may have a superficial impression of someone or something.

Disinterest. In addition, the halo effect is manifested in relation to those people, objects or phenomena that did not arouse much interest in the observer. Thus, if the brain considers someone or something not worthy of attention, then it will not want to waste energy on its detailed analysis, and will limit itself only to the first impression.

Stereotypes. The appearance of a halo, as well as other perception effects, very often occurs under the influence of widespread social stereotypes. For example, people in strict business clothes are perceived as more qualified and responsible, people with glasses seem smarter, etc.

Where can I meet the halo effect?

The halo effect is firmly “sewn” into the psychology of every person, regardless of their social status, race, religion or other characteristics. Because of this, this cognitive distortion is ubiquitous in many areas and life situations. Among the most common examples are the following:

Work and career

The halo effect is most often activated during interviews. For example, an HR manager or other responsible person may prefer an attractive and confident candidate over a more experienced one with better recommendations. Also, during interviews, HR specialists and managers often evaluate applicants only by the degree of prestige of their diploma of higher education, paying much more attention to this than to all other positive qualities and achievements of candidates. The halo effect is found not only in interviews, but also directly in work. For example, against the background of an exceptionally productive and capable employee, managers and managers may underestimate other specialists. Ultimately, all of these cases have a negative impact on business efficiency.

Personal relationships

The halo effect and other effects in psychology have a great impact not only on work, but also on personal relationships. In the course of research, a team of neuroscientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) concluded that the brain takes only 13 milliseconds to study a person’s appearance and form an opinion about it. In the modern world, perception effects are influenced not only by physical attractiveness, but also by a number of other components of the image. For example, these include clothing, shoes, hairstyle, tattoos or piercings, voice tone, as well as a number of non-verbal behavioral traits.


Separately, it is worth telling about the halo effect in medicine, the prevalence of which was proved in a study by a group of psychologists from the University of St. Andrews (Great Britain). They came to the conclusion that doctors and other medical staff may be biased against people with attractive appearance, considering them healthy by default. Such cognitive distortion often leads to the fact that beautiful patients are less likely to be referred for additional examinations, which is why their treatment is less effective.

What other perception effects are there?

The halo effect is far from the only cognitive distortion that is characteristic of the human brain. In addition to it, there are a number of other common perception effects, namely:

Psychological projection. When people attribute to others their own thoughts and emotions that they do not want to admit to themselves. The defense mechanism of the subconscious mind, based on the belief that other people feel the same. Next to it is the effect of false consent, which pushes people to project their way of thinking on others.

Role effect. This cognitive distortion forces people to perceive this or that role model as real personality traits. For example, a subordinate may find the boss rude and unpleasant because he criticized his work.

Intra-group favoritism. A very common perception effect, due to which people tend to overestimate the positive qualities of their group members. They seem to them more intelligent, beautiful and decent than those who are not in the group. The same distortion can also work in relation to people who are similar to each other.

The effect of the actor and the observer. Because of this psychological effect, a person is inclined to explain his own miscalculations and blunders by the prevailing circumstances (or other external factors), and the blunders and miscalculations of others by the negative properties of their personality.

The effect of causal attribution. This cognitive distortion is much like the previous one, as it forces people to attribute success to their merits, and defeat to unfortunate circumstances. If you need to form an opinion about others, then the effect of causal attribution will work in reverse order.

The effect of authority. People tend to listen to the opinions of their respected personalities, even if they are not experts in the issues they are talking about.

The superiority effect. This cognitive distortion leads to the fact that a person may overestimate certain qualities of those people who surpass him in some important parameter for him.

The effect of a logical error. A common perception effect leads to an erroneous judgment about the interconnectedness of certain personality traits. For example, a polite person is often considered decent by default, a good-natured person is empathic, etc.

The effect of physiognomic reduction. Because of this distortion, people can make a conclusion about the psychological state of a person and his personality as a whole based on an assessment of appearance.

The presumption of reciprocity. Another common cognitive distortion in society, which makes people believe that others treat them exactly the same way they treat others.

Halo effect in advertising and marketing

The active presence of the halo effect in psychology and everyday life makes it a very effective tool for promoting brands and their products. Modern marketers often use it and other perception effects when preparing advertising campaigns.

The most common example of the use of the halo effect is the bright packaging of goods: it acts as the very factor of visibility that attracts the attention of customers and makes them choose this particular product from a wide range.

Another classic example of the halo effect is the use of a single “flagship” product to promote the entire brand. As a reference example, here we can cite the iPod audio player, the success of which led to a rapid increase in the popularity of other gadgets from Apple.

An equally popular way to apply the halo effect in marketing is the participation of celebrities in advertising campaigns of famous brands and their products. Thus, advertisers use the celebrity halo to promote their own products and services. And buyers believe that if the products of the advertised brand are used by a well-known person who commands their respect, then they should also pay attention to these goods or services.

Attracting celebrities to promote brands is rightfully considered a very effective marketing tool. Research has shown that collaboration with celebrities and opinion leaders has helped many companies to get up to 100% growth in sales figures. On the other hand, this method of applying the halo effect in marketing has its own risks. If a well-known personality loses the favor of the audience (for example, due to scandals or problems with the law), then this leads to a decrease in the popularity of the brand associated with it.


The halo effect or halo effect is one of the most common effects in psychology. It can be caused by various factors, including any expressive features or, conversely, insignificance, lack of time for a balanced assessment, information overload or the impact of various stereotypes.

The halo effect manifests itself in different spheres of a person’s life, especially often it can be noticed in personal and working relationships. It is also an effective marketing tool, it is used by many brands to promote their products and services. In addition to the halo effect, there are a number of other perception effects, each of which is represented by one or another cognitive distortion.