What do you think of Alan and Ben?
Alan: intelligent – industrious – impulsive – critical – stubborn – envious
Ben: envious – stubborn – critical – impulsive – industrious – intelligent
If you are like most people, you like Alan more than Ben. But take a closer look. Alan and Ben are identical. The initial prominent traits in the list dominate your judgment, and even shape the lens through which you view the later characteristics.
This is the same reason why most people think the french fries on the Whole Foods hot bar are better for them than the french fries at McDonald's, and why people can convince themselves that organic mac and cheese, fried chicken, and pizza are notso-bad. It’s called a “halo effect,” and with keen awareness, you can protect yourself from falling victim to it.
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A halo effect occurs when one positive attribute of a person, place, or thing dominates the way that person, place, or thing is viewed by others. Halo effects are even stronger if the positive attribute is the first thing that you notice.
The most extensive research on halo effects has been done surrounding politicians, where research dating back to the 1970’s (led by psychologists Efran and Patterson) has found that attractive candidates receive significantly more votes than unattractive ones. Yet voters are completely unaware of their bias. When asked if physical appearance played any role in their decision, a sweeping majority of voters deny that the attractiveness of the candidate mattered at all.