The Halo Effect
It’s easy to become swept away by people we admire, and view them with rose-colored glasses that obscure their flaws. This selective perception is referred to as the Halo Effect. As Esther Inglis-Arkell says in her article The Halo Effect: Why You Won't Believe Your Heroes Have Flaws, published on Io9, "One good trait, if sufficiently emphasized, will bleed over into everything else you do."
In the 1920s, educational psychological Edward Thorndike observed how one set of people evaluated another set, in the context of a classroom. Over time, he noticed the teachers favoriting certain students, rating them highly even in areas in which they deserved lesser credit.
In his paper The Constant Error in Psychological Ratings, he published the results of these findings, as well as his observations of military officers evaluating soldiers under their command. He found that all soldiers were seen as either “all bad, all good, or all middling," with no complex interpretation of the soldier.
Other tests have confirmed our quickness to hang a halo on anyone who has a good quality. Attractiveness is especially favored, as shown in mock-juries, and studies where people are shown pictures of people and asked to grade papers supposedly written by them.
The Halo Effect is evident in everyday life as well. We see it in branding; two products can look virtually alike, but if one is branded with a logo that we have come to appreciate and regard as stylish and elite, that one is going to receive the most attention. People in the public eye cultivate a certain image based off a positive or alluring quality that they possess.
The problems it causes for us come into play when we overlook the glaring flaws of people in positions of power. A politician can charm people while openly deceiving them, thanks to the Halo Effect. A charismatic CEO can lead a company astray. The halo masks problems that become evident later, often when it’s too late.
Image by aloshbennett, courtesy of Creative Commons licensing.