Photoshop for the mind - the halo effect cover image

Photoshop for the mind - the halo effect

Dorian Minors • June 3, 2015

This is an archived article from our predecessor website, The Dirt Psychology. The idea there was to take psychological scholarship and turn it into wisdom. The Armchair Collective tries to go a little further than just psychology. As such, these articles live here in archive form, until they're updated.

This one phenomenon makes you ignore people's flaws. It's the reason that you will pay as much as double for a brand name or ignore the flaws of certain people. It's called the 'halo effect' and although it was discovered as early as 1920, it has just as much influence today (if not more, since people know about it now). In the early 1900's, Edward Thorndike (a big time scientist back then) discovered this phenomenon. Essentially he found that once someone has decided that you have a good quality, that someone will assume that you're a good person. They decide you're good and so everything they do is good in your mind. He called it the 'halo effect', because he likened it to putting a halo on someone's head. We simply assume, from that little bit of evidence that the person is good.

It gets you in every facet of life

It can also have the opposite effect

When this happens, it's called the 'reverse-halo' or 'devil' effect. When one assumes you are a terrible person, one cannot see past the negative to see any of the positive attributes of a thing. In fact, even attractiveness (which is one of the most consistent influencing factors of the 'halo effect') won't save you from the 'devil effect'. Think of Hugo Chavez, as the Guardian wrote in 2011.

The halo effect is essentially photoshop; the phenomenon smooths out all the bumps in a personality, product or service.


It's because our brains spend a great deal of their time making shortcuts, to save space for other tasks. So, by taking a small sample of person and using it to judge them more globally, it saves time and cognitive space for other things. But it's obviously problematic, so let's fix it:

If you were surprised to learn how much a small thing about a person can affect you, learn how a lab coat could make you kill someone, here. Or learn how smiling can control how you think, feel and act (even if you never felt like smiling in the first place). Giving you the dirt on your search for understanding, psychological freedom and 'the good life' at The Dirt Psychology.

Turning scholarship into wisdom we can use at The Armchair Collective.

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Dorian Minors

I mostly do brain science. Sometimes I train honeybees. I promise they're related. I made this site because there's no reason why scholars should be the only ones to own knowledge. My special interests are interpersonal relationships, the science of community, spirituality and the brain, and the neural basis of complex behaviour. I hope this stuff is as interesting to you as it is to me. You can find out more about me here.