Suffering from: The halo effect?

The principal of a top school stands up in front of a group of parents.

by Helen Kirwan-Taylor
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

They all smile: what an interesting, charming and clever chap the headmaster is. The fact that he's stuttering, looking at his feet and saying nothing significant makes no difference. They're hooked. The Halo Effect is the habit many of us have of embellishing another with positive qualities because of his or her association with someone or something successful, whether or not they possess those qualities themselves. It was discovered in 1920 by Edward Thorndike, who interviewed commanding officers about their men. Those who liked a soldier tended to rate him well across the board; disliked soldiers were rated consistently badly. Movie stars, politicians and business leaders rely heavily on the Halo Effect. If we think someone is attractive, we assume they're fascinating, talented and intelligent. Marketeers use the Halo Effect for celebrity endorsements (if Brad Pitt buys it, it must be good). The only way to resist it is to think. Is the headmaster on the podium really so fascinating, or is he just running a school you've heard good things about? Are the jeans flattering, or did they simply look good on Kate Moss? Is your boss really that clever, or has he simply halo-effected everyone in his way?

- Helen Kirwan-Taylor - helen@kirwantaylor.com

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