Halo Effect

What is it?

Halo effect is an error in reasoning in which an impression about a person that is formed from a single trait or characteristic is allowed to influence multiple judgments or ratings of unrelated factors.

It is important to be aware that Halo Effect can be positive or negative - judging someone as a good or a bad person  based on a single feature - their reputation, looks or feeling of warmth in their company - can be equally harmful. The negative side of halo effect is sometimes referred to as reverse halo effect or horn effect.

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Video by Sprouts Learning Co. | Used under Creative Commons license

How it relates to disinformation?

Imagine a well-known celebrity, Sarah, who is admired and trusted by her millions of followers. Sarah has gained a positive reputation as a fashion icon and lifestyle influencer. One day, Sarah comes across a new skincare product and is approached by the company for an endorsement deal. Despite having limited knowledge of skincare and its scientific aspects, Sarah agrees to promote the product based on the positive image she has cultivated.

Sarah's followers, influenced by the Halo Effect, perceive her as an expert in all areas, including skincare. They trust her judgment and believe that anything she endorses must be effective and reliable.

The disinformers behind the skincare product take advantage of Sarah's halo effect. They create a false narrative, claiming that the product has remarkable anti-ageing benefits and can eliminate wrinkles overnight. They use Sarah's endorsement as validation, further enhancing the perception of credibility.

Sarah's followers, influenced by the halo effect and their trust in her, eagerly purchase the skincare product based solely on her endorsement. They share their excitement and positive experiences on social media, spreading the disinformation further.

As a result, individuals who rely on Sarah's halo effect as a source of guidance and expertise unknowingly contribute to the dissemination of false claims. They trust the information because it comes from someone they admire and perceive as an authority, without critically evaluating the product's efficacy or scrutinising the claims, leading to the amplification of false information.

What can I do about Halo Effect?

  1. Be critical of all information, regardless of its source. In fact, be extra critical of information coming from people you like, follow or hold in high esteem. Remember, everyone makes mistakes!
  2. Don't rush to repeat, like or share information just because it comes from a person who you like, follow or hold in high esteem. Run a quick check before taking action and make an extra effort to look specifically for opposing views.
  3. If you need to choose who to work, or play with, in a team or who to hire for a job, ask for different opinions or bring someone else into the decision,  anonymise the process, strip the unnecessary information and reduce it to the relevant factors only (e.g. experience, success rate, etc.), avoid making decisions based on looks, make a pro and con list.

Suggested use in training

  • Present the bias to your learners and ask them to come up with positive and negative expressions of Halo Effect that they have witnessed
  • Challenge them to identify the one single quality or characteristic that they value so much in a person, that its presence automatically leads to acceptance and placing your trust in that person.
  • Repeat the challenge with a negative quality or characteristic that makes them quickly discount or reject the person overall.
  • In a group activity, identify the influencers on social media that are likely to have a halo effect on the group and its members. Challenge the group to list possible negative effects facilitated by the halo effect
  • Discuss the importance of challenging the halo effect for ensuring that people be treated fairly and that everyone be given a chance

Practice with this interactive video!

* In case the video does not appear, please open the page in a new tab and then refresh: https://brod.ntcenter.bg/en/cognitive-biases/halo-effect/

Josephine Herivel, a victim of slavery and imprisonment, speaks exclusively to Channel 4 News about her time in the commune from which she was rescued in 2013.

Background to the story (not mandatory, but very helpful to put things in their proper context):

  1. Wikipedia article: Lambeth slavery case
  2. Irish Times report on the 2020 conviction of the cult leader
  3. New Yorker (2016) article: Thirty Years in Captivity
  4. BBC documentary: The Cult Next Door (2017)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C1czfQCvCuI (50 mins)