Halo Effect; a Social- Psychological Phenomenon

The halo effect is a socio-psychological phenomenon and a type of cognitive bias which induces people to be biased in their arbitrations or alter their decisions by transferring their feelings about one attribute of something or someone to other, unrelated attributes, or in other words how a specific attribute of a person, in this case attire can affect their overall impression about the person. For example, “students tend to rate good-looking teachers as smarter, kinder, and funnier than less attractive instructors.” This tendency for students’ impression of teachers to influence what they think of them overall is known as the ‘Halo Effect’. 

This cognitive bias, Halo Effect has a powerful impact in the real world.  For example, job applicants perceived as attractive and likable are also more answerable to be concerned as competent, smart, and qualified for the job. Halo effect affects as a positive as well as a negative phenomenon in reality. Due to the likability of one aspect of someone, one may have a positive predisposition toward everything about her or him and maybe completely numb towards their negative attributes. Similarly, if one dislikes an aspect of something or someone, they'll have a negative predisposition toward everything about him or her. For example, analyzing the halo effect in the workplace can help one to better understand how it can affect productivity and morale. Attractiveness is one factor that creates this halo that influences one’s evaluations of specific traits among many others.

The existence of halo effect may give rise to distortions to the way a person is perceived and mostly assessed. However the subject is usually completely unaware of the bias they hold. This can be seen even in early romantic relationships where by an individual is attracted to another simply based on their physical attractiveness which then proceeds to dictate the ignorance of all negativities about the person. Others around the individual may perceive the negative traits, but not the individual who holds a liking towards the other. 
source - https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-the-halo-effect-2795906

 In one administration of this experiment conducted locally in Kandy city by a group of students of the Department of Psychology, University of Peradeniya amidst the contrasting change of setting (from the original experiment) the variables and the relationship however remained the same. The variables being attire, a specific attribute on one’s appearance and physical attractiveness and the willingness of the people in the said person’s surrounding, to help her in her time of distress: in this case, the deliberate dropping of a pile of books by her in pretense of an accident.

The hypothetical assumption according to the previous study is that the more attractively the person is dressed the more she is likely to be helped and vice versa. What was to be understood by this replication is whether this assumption is true in the Sri Lankan context and whether the relationship between one’s physical attractiveness (measured via attire) and the society’s impression and judgment on the person (measured via their willingness to help this person) is positive or negative. Thus in the experiment, the researchers mainly used three outfits (casual, office, shabby) to see if an observer’s overall impression created by these attires could influence the observer’s decision of whether to help picking up the bundle of books or to ignore.

Results of this study indicated that for the casual outfit the helping rate was around 43%. In the second instance when the group member was dressed in an office outfit she was helped at a rate of 40%, which shows a significant decrease from the first stage. In the third stage of the study the response rate dramatically increased when the group member was in a shabby outfit. She was helped at a rate of 80%. 

Multiple previous researches and findings  regarding the halo effect indicate that the hypothesis is having an attractive and pleasant outlook may lead to a positive result expected by the researchers since perceiving a person happens unconsciously in the mind, that the observer is unaware of bias they develop because a person’s attractiveness. It was assumed that external physical appearance often serves as the bias in inferring about the person who is being perceived.

Having replicated the experiment “The Halo effect”, it was noted that the result completely contradicted in the Sri Lankan setting with what was expected by the researchers. Thus, in conclusion, it can be said that physical appearance affects an observer’s overall impression of a person. But there are other factors which affect the halo effect in the Sri Lankan context such as cultural differences, other contextual differences, and the diversity of attitudes and personalities of the crowd

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  1. This article was sent in by Nalanga Hettiarachchi. She is a final year undergraduate, majoring in Psychology at University of Peradeniya.