Brain Food #726
The Halo Effect
Thoughts of the day
Every Wednesday, I will be sharing a new cognitive bias or mental model that you can add to your thinking toolbox. Being aware of our biases can help us change perspectives, be better humans, and make wiser decisions. Last week, I wrote about the Planning Fallacy, a form of cognitive bias that clouds our estimations about how much time we will actually need to complete a task.
A halo effect is a cognitive bias in which a positive or negative impression of a single attribute influences our feelings in another area. Springing from our preconceptions on what is good and what is bad, we judge products, brands, and people, according to our deeply embedded beliefs, and construct images of others based on what we have previously experienced, not on their own unique potential.
The main attribute that triggers the halo effect often tends to be appearance or beauty. We might see someone who looks good in a photo and assume they are a good person, because we have been taught that beauty is good. Research has shown that attractiveness might even have a positive impact on a person’s life success, or at least, lead to the assumption that someone is more successful just because they are attractive.
In new encounters, attractiveness can cloud our judgment, and might lead to feelings of intimidation, shyness, the feeling that someone is ‘out of our league’. And, on the opposing end of the spectrum, focusing on someone’s flaws can prevent us from seeing a person as they truly are, and how they might change and grow over time.
Beyond the norms we have instilled in ourselves, there are also societal norms at play that drive the halo effect. Researchers even found that people in monogamous relationships were viewed more positively than people in consensual non-monogamous relationships, in domains ranging from trust to paying their taxes on time.
We easily misjudge others based on the dichotomies of right or wrong, good and bad. But we might forget that, in the same way, others may be misjudging us.
By working on identifying our misconceptions and looking beyond beauty, we might understand that what we think is good and what is truly good may not necessarily be one and the same.
Willem de Kooning’s Woman, I painting made a sudden shift from the depictions of women commonly seen in art: the mother, the goddess, the nude. In explaining this rejection of beauty, de Kooning said, “Beauty becomes petulant to me. I like the grotesque. It’s more joyous.”
On a relevant note, you might be interested in reading why our fear of loss can be holding us back from making progress.
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