Provided by Natalie from Big Happy Life
Humans are not fans of ambiguity. We don’t like being confused and, since life is confusing and people are confusing, our subconscious minds work to simplify things. One of the ways we do this is with the cognitive biases and one such bias is the halo effect.
It’s a form of “all or nothing” thinking and it works by taking one or two positive traits in a person or thing and assuming or inferring the presence of further positive traits. Many of us believe we’re too savvy to think this way. Many of us are wrong.
The most common form of the halo effect is linked to attractiveness. When it comes to attractive people, we like them more readily, trust them more readily and infer all kinds of positive qualities without necessarily having any evidence to support the presence of these qualities. Fortunately for the less symmetrical among us, (it appears attractiveness all about symmetry) the halo effect is not exclusively linked to attractiveness.
As Daniel Kahneman demonstrates in his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow (I know I mention this book a lot but it’s utterly brilliant and explains so many biases beautifully), the first impressions we have of people shape our perception of later information. It seems there may be a psychological basis for the old cliché “You never get a second chance to make a great first impression.”
One example Kahneman shares in the book is that of Joan. You meet her at a party. She is personable and easy to talk to. You like her. When asked whether or not you think she would give to charity, you believe she would. You like Joan and you like people who give to charity. It’s a match! Of course, now that you believe she is generous, you like her even more than you did earlier…cue more positive beliefs about Joan.
The information we first associate with a person or thing determines how we filter later information so in Joan’s case, we’re more likely to notice and remember positive traits and actions and we’re more likely to ignore or excuse negative traits or actions. In my previous post, “The Story Matters”, I shared my own experience as an adoptive parent benefiting from the halo effect. Despite the number, frequency and variety of my parenting mistakes and misdemeanors, they were all explained away under the banner of “learning curve”. People saw me as a good person trying her best. They remembered the wins and the good stuff and they forgave and forgot the bad stuff. It made sense to them to do so.
Biases help us work out what to do. If we constantly had to reevaluate someone’s character, things would get very messy very quickly. Our biases are powerful little programs running undetected in our minds, making us feel sure footed in our decisions and evaluations. In my case as an adoptive parent, I like to think people made the right decision in giving me the benefit of the doubt. Biased thinking isn’t necessarily incorrect but it’s worth being aware of the presence of such biases because of how they shape our perception, beliefs and actions.