The Halo Effect

24.03.2015 |

Episode #9 of the course “Brilliant Social Psychology Experiments”

One of social psychology’s most famous findings is the “halo effect.” The halo effect states that global evaluations about a person affect how that person is judged on other traits. For example, famous people who are attractive and likable are seen as intelligent and friendly, even if they are not. Similarly, voters believe a politician’s policies because of charisma. But shouldn’t we be able to cut through the halo effect using facts? Maybe not. In 1971, Dr. Richard Nisbett studied how shortsighted humans become while under the halo effect.

In 1977, Nisbett and Wilson examined how students judged lecturers. Researchers told students that the study investigated instructor ratings. Researchers supposedly wanted to examine how exposure to a particular lecturer affected student ratings. This was far from the truth.

In two groups, participants viewed separate tapes of the same professor with a Belgian accent. Group A observed the professor being extremely warm and friendly. Group B observed the professor being cold and distant. In the first video he appeared to like teaching; in the second he appeared to dislike students and hated teaching.

Each participant group had to rate the video they watched. Students who saw the “warm” video of the lecturer rated him as highly attractive with a pleasing accent and mannerisms. The halo effect was displayed perfectly. The other group reported that their ratings of his personality traits negatively impacted their perception of his likability.

Surprisingly, the students did not realize why they gave one lecturer higher ratings. The researchers tried twice to debrief students on the halo effect in the study. But students maintained that their overall level of affection the professor did not affect how he was rated. Students were unaware that how much they liked the professor may have affected their judgment.


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