What is The Halo Effect in Psychology?

The halo Effect - Fallacy in Logic

The halo effect, also known as “physical attractiveness stereotype”, is a common type of cognitive bias that we all have had first-hand experience with.

In short, it happens when a positive impression of a person, product, or brand in one aspect affects our overall opinions of them.

The term halo refers to a glowing light circling above a person’s head that is often depicted in religious art.


The halo effect describes how a positive impression of one characteristic influences the way we see the other characteristics of something.

An example of this is when you meet a good-looking person and, due to their physical attractiveness, you also judge them as intelligent, well-behaving and kind.


This phenomenon was first identified in 1907 by psychologist Frederick Wells, however, it was recognized as a cognitive bias only in 1920 by another American psychologist, Edward Thorndike.

In one of his studies, Thorndike asked military officers to rate the physical and personal traits — such as attractiveness, intelligence, and leadership skills — of their subordinates. Based on his findings, he concluded that the way people evaluate some specific characteristic (either positively or negatively) of other people, does indeed influence how they judge all other characteristics.

Social Interactions

As such, this cognitive bias is prevalent in the world of social interactions.

People often form their overall judgment of other people — that is, decide if they like or dislike them — based on first impressions. As noted in the example above, whenever we meet someone new whom we view as attractive, funny, or successful, we are likely to perceive them positively in all or most other aspects.

In fact, physical appearance is the main and likely most studied aspect of the halo effect. It has been shown that physically attractive individuals have a number of advantages: They are frequently rated as more intelligent and likable, enjoy higher levels of self-confidence, and usually do better both in their professional lives as well as in educational settings.


The halo effect is frequently used in marketing to influence the opinions and actions of consumers.

For instance, a celebrity endorsement can make us perceive a particular brand as more esteemed and desirable; how we view the celebrity carries over to sway our opinion of the brand behind the commercial.

We may also view a product more positively based on how it is labeled. One study found that people tend to underestimate the number of calories in food products labeled as “organic” and are willing to pay higher prices for them.

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