Are Taller People More Successful Than Shorter People? The Halo Effect {Bias Day 9}

Statistics say, overall, taller people do make more money than shorter people over their lifetime. But is it because tall people are smarter and more skilled? No.

It’s more likely because of how tall people are judged. Because they are tall, people also assume they are healthier, stronger, and more competent. Thus they are given more opportunities and viewed more positively. 

It’s the halo effect in action.  

What is the halo effect?

The halo effect is our tendency to make an overall judgment of a person or thing based on one trait (such as height or physical attractiveness).

The halo effect can work both positively and negatively though. If our first impression of a person is good, we easily associate other good qualities to them as well. But if our first impression is bad, we associate other bad qualities to them (it’s called the horn effect when it works this direction).

The halo effect is also known as the “what is beautiful is good” principle.

Here’s an example of the halo effect.

Marketers use the halo effect on us all the time. When your favorite actor or actress pitches a product, you’re more likely to believe their pitch because you like them, and thus buy the product.

Studies have shown that when a food product is labeled “organic,” we also unconsciously assume it has less calories in it and that it is good for us to eat daily, regardless of whether or not it’s true (even when it is “organic” Oreo cookies).

Why does this happen?

The halo effect is a shortcut for our brains. Because our brains are naturally prone to take the easy way out, we prefer to make one judgment quickly and stick with it, rather than have to reevaluate frequently.

We lean toward creating an image that fits with what we already know too. If a person is attractive, surely they also are kind and intelligent.

Why is the halo effect bad for us?

The halo effect disrupts our good judgment. It locks us into a one-track mindset, regardless of what the facts say. It can lead us to make unfair decisions in how we treat other people.

Have you ever “fallen in love at first sight”? Only to discover later that your perfect find wasn’t so perfect after all? That’s the halo effect. 

In education, studies show that more attractive students are given higher grades than less attractive students, even among experienced teachers, due to the halo effect. And if a teacher is viewed as friendly, the students rate them as also more attractive, warm, and likable.

One study has shown that wait staff who are attractive will earn approximately $1,200 more per year in tips than food servers who are viewed as less attractive because the more attractive servers are unconsciously assumed to be more skilled and friendly as well.

Halo Effect

How can we counter the halo effect?

Because the halo effect is either used about us or by us almost daily, it’s important to be aware of it so we can counter it.

Notice when you make a snap judgment about a person or a product. Ask yourself why.

  • Do you agree with the politician because of her stand on the issues, or just because she is a good public speaker?
  • Are you hiring the employee because they met all the right qualifications, or because they dressed nice for the interview so they must be a good employee?

Remember that each person is complex and just because you know one thing about them doesn’t mean you know everything. Gather the facts.

Experts also advise countering the halo effect by slowing down your assessments. Give yourself time to form a proper opinion. Have a set of standards you can compare to. Be willing to hold differing perceptions in your mind instead of making it all one direction.

And when appropriate, consider concrete actions. For example, educators can grade papers anonymously if they want to steer clear of bias.

How did Jesus handle the halo effect?

Jesus wasn’t tempted by the halo effect. He could see above it all (Mark 2:8; Luke 9:47). He knew what was in a person’s heart, regardless of their outward appearances. He alone could make a proper judgment because he knew a person from the inside out.

We need to remind ourselves we do not posses special inside knowledge of a person the way the Lord does. As he told Samuel, he doesn’t judge by appearances; he looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). We, on the other hand, have only partial knowledge, thus we need to be slow to make judgment.

And when possible, don’t pass judgment at all, especially not on outward appearances.

How have you seen the halo effect in action? Please share in the comments.

You are on Day 9 of the series: “How to Uncover Hidden Biases.”

Uncover Hidden Biases

Previous: Loss Aversion {Bias Day 8}
“But it’s mine! Why We Can’t Let Go”

Next: Community Bias {Bias Day 10}
“If You See Differently Than Your Group”

8 thoughts on “Are Taller People More Successful Than Shorter People? The Halo Effect {Bias Day 9}

  1. Martha Jane Orlando

    I do try not to make snap judgments of others when I first meet them, but there is always that part of the brain that wants to succumb to the halo effect. It’s something we need to be mindful of and steer clear as best we can.
    Blessings, Lisa!

  2. Mary Rooney Armand

    The halo effect is such an interesting aspect of human behavior. I love how clearly you explained it and brought Jesus into the equation. You sum up the bottom line well, “And when possible, don’t pass judgment at all, especially not on outward appearances.” Thanks for another great read!

  3. Calvonia Radford

    Oh my! This post is on point sis! I see this on a daily basis. Drawing conclusion about someone or a group of people based on their appearance. I have seen it in the Christian world we we judge someone’s holiness based on their outward abelites. I often go back to your key verse, remembering how Jesse chose not to present his ruddy little boy to the prophet but God saw his heart. I’m thankful that God does not look at my external features but He really knows me. Thank you for this.

  4. Lois Flowers

    Lisa, “don’t judge a book by its cover” was the first thing that came to mind as I was reading this. It’s so easy to jump to conclusions about people based on surface factors but you’re right. Those assumptions are often wrong, and making them is often lazy and even hurtful. Your last words really resonate: “When possible, don’t pass judgment at all.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *