Positivity Pinpoint: Halo and Horns Effect

By Devi Chandran (‘24)

Who would you hire? 

Kaitlin is a 25-year-old graduate from Brown University and has  a major in business with a minor in communications. Friends often describe her as outgoing, likeable, confident, and driven. As a valedictorian of her high school class, Kaitlin was notably able to start college as a sophomore. Due to a strong passion for charity work, she then took a gap year working with the Peace Corps. She now seeks a management position in your business, despite this being her first corporate job. 

Jared is a 50-year-old male who graduated from his local community college. Due to familial circumstances, he was held back a few years and had to start college later than his peers. He spent one year in jail for automobile theft his junior year and had to take time off for community service. His major is in performance arts but he minored in business communications. Jared has a family to support and acknowledges that he might have to take days off frequently. But Jared has useful experience in the corporate world and believes he is perfect for the job. 

To most people, Kaitlin seems like the natural choice. She is passionate about helping her community, has a strong academic background, and displays traits that are important in a leadership role. But we haven’t had an interaction with Kaitlin yet. How are we to decide if she is indeed more kind, intelligent, and motivated? After reading this background, we are more likely to overlook negative traits Kaitlin might present. We’ll pin it down to having a bad day, lack of sleep, or anxiety. That same sympathy won’t be shown to Jared if he arrives late or needs a question repeated. Why is that? 

According to Dictionary.com, confirmation bias is defined as, “the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories.” In this situation the type of confirmation bias exhibited is the horns vs halo effect. The halo effect is when one positive trait influences your judgment of an individual, and the horns effect is vice versa. In the example above Kaitlin’s charity work may have been a factor to an overall positive judgment. 

As much as we try not to judge the book by its cover, biases are ever present in daily life. They can be based on various factors including: age, race, gender, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or even education. But these surface assumptions can have negative repercussions.  Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist, economist, and Nobel laureate, explains an example in his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow. When Daniel was grading essays, he found that if the student had received a higher grade on the first essay, subsequent “silly” mistakes were overlooked. On the other hand, if the student did poorly on the first assignment, then they naturally had a lower grade the following essay cycle. First impressions often have a great impact on lasting judgments! 

Let’s go back to Kaitlin and Jared. While you may be naturally drawn to one candidate over the other, it’s not fair to make these assumptions without meeting them. Maybe Kaitlin has an exceptional personality, but lacks the expertise needed to make your business a success. Jared’s corporate experience could be just what you need to take the business in a new direction. On the other hand, a youthful perspective such as Kaitlin’s could help appeal to a younger audience. Or maybe the position requires a steady time commitment, in which case Jared simply isn’t the right fit. Without interacting with these individuals, these judgments have no basis. Hopefully, you scheduled an in person interview without making a hasty decision. 

The only way to confront these biases is being aware of them. So the next time you have an important decision to make, be careful of confirmation bias! 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.