The Halo Effect: Do beautiful people have it easier?

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, or so they say, but what of the Halo effect? It is widely believed that the more beautiful a person, the easier their life becomes and the more success they accumulate. But, is this actually true and could there be any downsides to this? Let’s find out. 

What is the Halo effect?

The Halo effect, in a nutshell, is how we humans think positively about a person if they have one good trait. For example, if a person is beautiful and well-groomed, we assume they must also be healthy and intelligent before we have even spoken to this person or worked alongside them. The term “Halo Effect” was first coined around 1920 when it was pioneered by American psychologist, Edward L. Thorndike. He conducted a study that asked commanding officers in the military to rate their servicemen, based solely on their appearance. The results showed that the taller and more attractive servicemen were seen as more intelligent and better soldiers overall. Such is the power of beauty.

Why do humans do this? 

So, why do we give pretty people a pass? Basically, we humans are fickle creatures and, given the wide variety of physical attributes such as hair colour, skin colour, height, weight, and many other things, the human brain has figured out a way to quickly separate out those it deems attractive and those it doesn’t. 

The important reason for this and why humans are attracted to beautiful things stems from a survival point of view. Symmetry is linked to health and so, back when our ancestors were hunting and farming, anything asymmetrical or unbalanced, such as a stalk of wheat or the antlers of a stag, could be a sign of disease or poison and so, for our survival, we have placed value on beauty as being healthier. 

This also stems from what we have been exposed to over the years. Think of any film you have watched recently and you will notice that, typically, the hero is young, brave, and handsome whilst the villain is typically moody, cruel, or ugly. 

This, once again, links back to the idea that Good is beautiful and Bad is ugly. Now, I am not about to blame Disney for typecasting the ugly stepsister and the beautiful princess. I am simply stating that, as humans, we cannot help but make snap decisions about a person’s appearance because that is all the information we have at our disposal. 

The pros of the Halo Effect

Now, it would be naive to say that being beautiful is a guarantee of having a rich and successful life, but it has been proven to have some clear advantages. You may think, “I already knew pretty people had it easier”, but it goes much deeper than this. For example, an attractive felon is more likely to receive a shorter jail sentence, a teacher will assume a beautiful child is more capable and motivated before they have even assessed that child’s intelligence, and an attractive person is more likely to be elected to public office

The results of this can most often be seen in the workplace, where the Halo effect can also have some dramatic benefits. When applying for a job, a person is more likely to be hired if the person interviewing them is of the opposite sex. Again, the reason for this is that we assume that a well-groomed woman must also be kind or have greater capabilities than someone who wore flip flops to their interview. Obviously, this can cause problems further down the line as incompetent people may be chosen for jobs and positions of power that they are not qualified for. 

Height is also tied to the Halo effect, particularly in the case of men. A taller man is deemed more attractive, which feeds into our ideas regarding a strong and capable leader. As someone you can look up to, literally, for guidance, having an extra few inches can also pay off financially as height can increase your chances of earning megabucks.

A study conducted by the Journal of Applied Psychology (Vol 89., No.3) found that someone who is six feet tall earns $166,000 more over a 30 year career period than someone who is 5 foot 5 inches. A shorter man will sometimes be overlooked (sorry, guys) for a promotion in favour of his taller colleague. Now, before the shorter men of the world despair at this, confidence also has a key role to play here and there have been many successful men throughout history who lacked stature but more than made up for it in capabilities, such as Winston Churchill, Napoleon, and Bruce Lee, to name a few.

The cons – Beauty is only skin deep

However, attraction can also be a double-edged sword, with beautiful people suffering from unfortunate side effects as a result. For example, a beautiful person is perceived as being less talented; that is, perhaps they only got the job due to their looks and not their intelligence or previous experience. 

When looking to get hired, if the person conducting the interview is of the same sex as the person applying, they may not be successful despite their qualifications, as they are seen as a possible threat. Given that the workplace is one the most common areas of life in which to find a partner, it would explain why people would try to limit competition, and a person may face social exclusion because of this.

Pretty women may also find it difficult to be taken seriously if they are hoping to enter a traditionally masculine occupation, such as engineering. There is also the downside of being held to a higher standard than others in the workplace and, so, more is expected of attractive people. If you make a mistake at work, it could damage the idea that they once had of you. 

The other disadvantage of the Halo Effect is that, if an attractive person is living in a poorer area and is competing with other people for a low-paying job, such as street cleaning or housekeeping, the attractive person may be overlooked. This stems from the idea that they are thought to be “too good” for the job and deserve a better role, which can hurt a person’s chances of getting hired. 

Moreover, attractive people are also judged as being more vain and dishonest. This can also lead people to believe that they are more likely to use their beauty to manipulate others even if they haven’t done anything that would suggest this.

Conclusion

So, with all this in mind, perhaps it is safe to say that being beautiful isn’t everything and that we are all guilty of judging books by their covers from time to time. However, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t at least try to eliminate some of this unconscious bias when we can. As we all know, beauty is subjective across cultures and continents, and what you find attractive, someone else will hate and vice versa. Therefore, I wouldn’t worry about it too much, simply do your best and try to make a good first impression.

Also, if you think you may have experienced any positive or negative side effects as a result of the Halo Effect, please comment below. I’d love to hear your stories.  

 

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Grace Duffy

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