The Halo Effect

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Abstract

In this study I aimed to test the presence of the ‘halo effect’ in interpersonal attraction. The ‘halo effect’ occurs when attractive people are attributed with other positive personality traits; a positive correlation between physical attractiveness and perceived positive personality characteristics (for example, trustworthiness and intelligence).

In this study the above hypothesis was tested by selecting four photographs (two male and two female) of people with varying levels of attractiveness and asking participants to rate the attractiveness and personality characteristics images in a questionnaire. The personality rating was based on the following; trustworthiness, approachability, humour, popularity, confidence and sociability. Forty participants aged 16-18 (20 males and 20 females) were asked to complete the questionnaire and rate the physical attractiveness and personalities of the people in the images based on a scale of 0-10 (10 being the highest).

In analysing the raw data, Spearman’s rank was chosen as the statistical test. The correlation was significant (p = 0.05, critical value = 1, observed value = 1, alternative hypothesis accepted). This supports previous research and suggests that the halo effect is present in society, and that attractive people are attributed with positive personality characteristics. Introduction

Interpersonal attraction is at the basis of all relationships; but why are we attracted to some people and not to others?

This is a well researched question in psychology. Physical attractiveness is believed to be one of the most important factors in interpersonal attraction. A theory of physical attractiveness is that it affects interpersonal attraction due to the ‘halo effect’, Berry (2001). When we perceive someone as physically attractive we attribute other positive characteristics to them also.

In a meta-analysis of 200 studies, Feingold (1992) found that attractive people were assumed to be more sociable, intelligent, sexually warm and experienced, popular and socially skilled than unattractive people- all positive personality traits. They were also found to be perceived as less lonely and less socially anxious.

The ‘halo effect’ is shown in a study conducted by Dion, Bercheid & Walster, (1972); where participants were asked to match personality traits to images of attractive and unattractive people. Their results showed that more positive traits were attributed to the attractive individuals, as compared to the less attractive individuals.

Cialdini (1984) found that attractive people had a lot of influence over other people because we attribute positive characteristics to them- the physical attractiveness stereotype. As a result attractive people have an enormous social advantage in our culture; they are better liked, more persuasive, more frequently helped, and seen as possessing better personality traits and intellectual capabilities. This is demonstrated by Kurtzberg (1968) who conducted a study where criminals were given plastic surgery to make them more attractive, it was found that once released these inmates were less likely to return to jail- even more unlikely than those who received rehabilitation services. A follow-up study by Stewart (1980) found that the surgery did not decrease the chances of committing further crimes, simply the chances of them returning to jail.

Aim

The above research shows the presence of the halo effect, the assumption that physically attractive people have positive personality traits. In this study participants will be asked to attribute personality characteristics to images of anonymous individuals. The images have been previously rated for attractiveness by a group of students of a similar age to the participants, a technique used by Dion, Bercheid & Walster, (1972). The scores will be collated and the findings will give an indication if the halo effect is still as evident today (2007) as it was in 1972....
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