Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Cognitive Bias: Halo and reverse halo effects

Halo Effect over ARO
Halo Effect over ARO
(Photo credit: Alan R. Light)
Do you take stock in your first impression? Everybody does. After all, that is where the cliche "you don't have a second chance to make a first impression" came from.

However, when first impression is wrong, and they often are, what you have here is a cognitive bias known as the "halo effect". And scammers are known to use the halo effect for their scams.

In short, halo effect is the way the mind used the first impression to subsequently affect the judgement.

Say you are trying to evaluate someone, maybe interview a candidate for a job. If he arrives in a full suit (as is the normal dress code), nicely tailored, matching tie, spit-shined shoes, great crease on the pants, not a hair out of place, clean-shaven, even proper cuff links, you'd be impressed.

However, if the same candidate showed up in a rumpled blazer, slightly stained pants, dirty shoes, shirt that doesn't look like it's been ironed for a week, and 5 o'clock shadow before noon, then you're probably not going to like him as much as the guy who was dressed to the nines.

Even if it's the SAME PERSON, thus, the same abilities, qualities, personalities, etc.

That's why in jury trials, the defendant is NOT to appear in court wearing jail jumpsuits, or in chains or handcuffs, and is often in a suit to look as "clean" as possible, as not to prejudice the jury.

There are a lot of subtle signals one can project to create an image that would make a good first impression without being obvious about it. And scammers know most of them.

There are two things that inspire trust: beauty, and age.

Not extreme beauty though. Extreme beauty, like "model-good-looks" inspire doubt: is s/he for real? But general attractiveness and friendly demeanor is very helpful to inspire trust. Call it... "attractiveness" if you will.

Another thing that inspire trust is age, or at least the appearance of age. Some scammers are known to intentional dye their hair silver to appear older. Others are known to play the "old man/woman" angle. Wearing glasses would also help, as would a naive / bumpkin type appearance.

Once the scammer have given you a good impression, and thus, gained halo effect over you, s/he can then use other techniques to inspire trust, such as prompt payment, and explanation that matches the scheme to something already familiar to you so you are NOT tempted to verify what they claimed.

It is no wonder most spokespersons are relatively attractive people and ads are done with good looking people. You'll never find any one ugly there. Magazines are known to manipulate photos to erase blemishes and such for their cover photos. Though in modern times more and more unconventional looks are going maintstream.

The reverse halo effect, also known as the "devil effect", is where negative appearance, like visible tattoos, scars, asymmetrical features, and so on are immediately viewed as bad, untrustworthy, and so on.

For further study

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