What Is the Halo Effect? | Definition & Examples

The halo effect occurs when our overall positive impression of a person, product, or brand is based on a single characteristic. If our first impression is positive, the subsequent judgments we make will be colored by this first impression.

Example: Halo effect
The halo effect is a common bias in performance appraisals. Supervisors often evaluate the overall performance of an employee on the basis of a single prominent characteristic. If an employee shows enthusiasm, this may influence the supervisor’s judgment, even if the employee lacks knowledge or competence in some areas. This may lead the supervisor to give them a higher rating due to their enthusiasm.

Because of the halo effect, one positive characteristic may overshadow all other aspects of the employee’s performance.

The halo effect can hamper our ability to think critically. It can be particularly problematic in decision-making contexts, such as job interviews and purchase decisions.

What is the halo effect?

The halo effect is a form of cognitive bias—a heuristic (or mental shortcut) that causes us to make snap judgments. In other words, the halo effect leads us to consider only one aspect of a person or a product in order to form a general opinion.

Snap judgments like these can help us navigate the world more seamlessly and make decisions faster, but they also put us at risk of poor decision-making.

When the halo effect is at play, a general evaluation of a person, or an evaluation of an aspect of their personality, influences how we view other, unrelated aspects of their personality. For example, if we consider someone to be attractive, we are more likely to assign them other positive qualities, such as intelligence, kindness, or honesty.

Overreliance on our first impressions can lead to poor decision-making, since we are unable to consider all the facts available to us. A positive first impression can be misleading. For example, when you find out your coworker went to a prestigious university, you might assume they are more skilled than they actually are.

Like other forms of heuristics, the halo effect is unconscious and not intentional. Because it clouds our judgment, the halo effect can be a source of research bias.

Halo and horn effect

While the halo effect refers to positive evaluations, a similar spillover effect occurs when a negative first impression warps our perception.

The horn effect is the tendency for a negative impression made in one context to influence our judgment in another. This means that we focus only on negative qualities and exclude any positive ones.

Halo effect example

The halo effect is often used as a persuasion technique in marketing.

Example: Halo effect and consumer psychology
Suppose you are at the supermarket, trying to pick a snack. You see two granola bars, and one is labeled as organic. As you are health-conscious, you go for the organic one, thinking that it’s the better choice.

In reality, just because a product says it’s organic or has organic ingredients doesn’t mean it’s healthier. If you read the package, you would see that the organic bar is still high in sugar.

The halo effect influences how consumers judge the quality of products based upon a single product feature. By assigning a positive characteristic to their product, brands can influence customers’ perception of the overall quality of the product.

The halo effect can also explain brand loyalty and brand reputation.

Example: Halo effect and brand reputation
Your favorite technology brand releases a new smartphone. Because you are very satisfied with a laptop by the same brand that you bought a few years ago, you maintain that its other products must also be reliable and of high quality.

After a few weeks, customers start complaining about the smartphone’s battery. Even so, you think that it’s still a good brand, and this is just an exception.

A favorable experience with a company’s product creates a halo that casts the company as a whole in a positive light. This prior good reputation protects the company in times of crisis (for example, when a new product turns out to be a flop) and deflects some of the reputational damage.

Conversely, if several products fail, a negative halo (a horn effect) is created around the brand, which can be very difficult to overcome.

How to minimize the halo effect

Although you can’t entirely avoid cognitive biases like the halo effect, there are a few tips that can help you minimize its impact:

  • Bear in mind that everyone is prone to biased thinking. Keep reminding yourself that first impressions are not always right and can lead us to misjudge others.
  • Slow down your thinking process. We are more likely to fall for the halo effect when emotional or intuitive thinking takes over. Instead, make sure you have clear evidence for your evaluations. For example, in the context of performance reviews, supervisors use a list of criteria and objective data to ensure that they are evaluating each employee fairly.
  • Seek input from others, particularly from a “devil’s advocate” or someone neutral to the situation. Talk to someone who isn’t afraid to disagree with you and is neutral when it comes to the person or subject at hand. Compare their opinions to your own to see if they recognize the same qualities in a person that you do.

Other types of research bias

Frequently asked questions

How does the halo effect apply to marketing?

The halo effect in marketing means that any characteristic of a product can affect how customers perceive its other characteristics, as well as how they perceive the product as a whole.

For example, poor packaging design can cause customers to think that the product is of low quality, even if there’s no direct connection between these characteristics. Similarly, appealing packaging can lead customers to view a product in a more positive light, even when it comes to attributes that aren’t related to its packaging.

What is the horn effect?

The horn effect is the opposite of the halo effect. When the horn effect is at play, our negative first impressions in one context influence any subsequent judgment we make, even if the context is different.

For example, when you meet someone new and that person happens to be in a bad mood that day, you might conclude that they are bad-tempered because of this negative first impression.

What are common types of cognitive bias?

Cognitive bias is an umbrella term used to describe the different ways in which our beliefs and experiences impact our judgment and decision making. These preconceptions are “mental shortcuts” that help us speed up how we process and make sense of new information.

However, this tendency may lead us to misunderstand events, facts, or other people. Cognitive bias can be a source of research bias.

Some common types of cognitive bias are:

Sources in this article

We strongly encourage students to use sources in their work. You can cite our article (APA Style) or take a deep dive into the articles below.

This Scribbr article

Nikolopoulou, K. (2022, December 02). What Is the Halo Effect? | Definition & Examples. Scribbr. Retrieved February 6, 2023, from https://www.scribbr.com/research-bias/halo-effect/

Sources

Timothy Coombs, W. and Holladay, S.J. (2006), “Unpacking the halo effect: reputation and crisis management”, Journal of Communication Management, Vol. 10 No. 2, pp. 123-137. https://doi.org/10.1108/13632540610664698

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Kassiani Nikolopoulou

Kassiani has an academic background in Communication, Bioeconomy and Circular Economy. As a former journalist she enjoys turning complex scientific information into easily accessible articles to help students. She specializes in writing about research methods and research bias.