A Prison of Ideas – A historic journey of the Halo effect

Non-fiction Apr 19, 2020

It is said that the halo effect is a cognitive bias that occurs when an initial positive judgment about a person 'unconsciously' colours the perception of the individual as a whole. The effect has been thought upon, studied and has been a critical theme for research in the field of psychology. But have we ever thought about the how, when and why of the word 'unconsciously' in the definition? What comes across as a judgement made in a subconscious or unconscious state, is that even a judgement or just a type of reaction?

The historic religious concept of having a glowing circle crowning the heads of saints in countless medieval and Renaissance paintings, bathing the saint's face in heavenly light is known as the Halo. Who knew that a mere denomination of superiority and holiness in the creative space would actually establish its personified identity on earth forever? Edward L. Thorndike coined the term ‘halo effect’ in 1920 based on his observations of experiments that involved military officers ranking subordinates. The officers ranked without any kind of prior communication. The results showed absolutely negligible connection between ranking and traits and that is how the Halo effect ‘officially’ came into being and its existence and dominance started being noticed in almost every aspect of human race.

We often feel different about our own self time to time. Perhaps introspection is not really assessing but a process of redefining oneself based on the changing circumstances. This is where cognitive bias breeds in and branches into a different perception. Thus, Halo effect has its hand over concepts as personal as introspection. For Instance, whenever we get to know about different perceptions that people have about us be it positive or negative, we fake a round of introspection by trying to justify the judgment rather than assessing it by trying to relate such judgment to our behaviour or actions in some way or the other. This clearly establishes the presence of halo effect in a choice as personal as introspection.

‘To be free or not be free’. Is it a choice, demand, pursuit and opposition at the same time? Ron Stewart says, “It is alright to force people to be free”. How many of us have the courage or rather the rationale to agree to that? All this contradiction and confusion rests in the conclusion that Freedom is heterogeneously interpreted. Thus, Freedom should be given the freedom to ‘choose’ to be free from the predetermined notions of how it should ideally look like also known as the halo effect.

Have you ever thought that whatever have been told is right or wrong, why is it so? Who decides what is right and what is wrong? What leads to he creation of such predefined norms? Above all, what makes us accept these norms and create an already created perception? At the end, we call it rational। Rationale- 'An explanation of controlling principles of opinion, belief, practice, or phenomena.' The first prison that I feel surrounds us all through our upbringing is ‘the prison of rationale’. Does the word ‘idea’ make you connect with the concept of liberty at any level or is it just a psychological fault of consistently interpreting the same ‘ideal’ idea again and again? 21 st century humans should have no qualms in accepting the fact that the concept of being free to generate your own idea is a long-forgotten concept. Today we are ready, programmed to accept what the society considers Rational to be ideal. Thus, we have celebrated our liberty by improvising the ‘rational ideology’ through the W-I-I-F-M (What’s in It for Me) concept and have successfully embellished the Prison of our ideas. This is nothing but an illustration of the halo effect that has been breeding in the society since time immemorial. For instance, today LGBT rights have been voiced and upheld but in some parts of the world accepting such a concept is still alien. Say there’s a lesbian couple in India. Having witnessed the mentality and social conditions in India, they decide not to settle in India. Here a choice is made because of the freedom that exists today to make a choice but the psychological shadow on the compromise made because of such a perception makes this choice to ‘appear’ to be free from the halo effect. Perhaps that’s ho the effect today stands immortal.

Delusion - 'a persistent false psychotic belief regarding the self or persons or objects outside the self that is maintained despite indisputable evidence to the contrary'. The next prison we enter into is ‘the prison of delusion’. The Halo effect further branches into a number of biases with one of them being the confirmation bias. When we say the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, it’s nothing but a personification of the confirmation bias. This means when there is a strong positive impression has been formed, there is no negative power that can dissolve the power of the priory formed positive impression. Today the halo effect created by the confirmation bias is a business tactic. Maggie sales never faced a lengthy recessionary period even after having proven evidence of led in it. ‘Mond’ cigarettes maintain their high sales despite of all the harmful advertisements on it just because of that one impression it created of having minimal tobacco. If we think that such bias leading to the halo effect is a result of the competition in the 21 st century, then we are wrong. It has been traced all along history but the intensity of the effect created doesn’t welcome any new data. Harvard sociologist Charles Ogletree has pointed out, “Ninety-nine percent of black people don’t commit crimes, yet we see the images of back people day in, day out, and the impression is that they’re all committing crimes.” Clearly, throughout the U.S. history Whites have tried to escape punishment for their crimes sometimes find black men convenient scapegoats, because they are so readily seen as prone to crime.

Development- 'to cause to evolve or unfold gradually: to lead or conduct (something) througha succession of states or changes each of which is preparatory for the next.' The third and the final prison of existence is ‘the prison of development’. Ideas can be defined as scripted emotions and that is why the major political, legal or for that matter any system existing in this world fears emotions. Clearly different people will react differently to the same thing. This difference in emotions is a result of the diverse physical, mental and cultural environment that we have grown up in. Some of us are immunized to fear whereas some are to death. Emotions are drawn from nowhere else but culture and culture can’t be aborted. this abortion of culture is what human history has always fought about because of the zillion ideas that have mistakenly taken birth in the cube that the spherical earth seems to be trapped in and that cube is nothing but the walls of development. What we have failed to understand is that development and civilisations are disjoint sets but the way Europe has whitewashed the world with its own definition of development is what the rest of the world thinks is civilisation. We always think about the development of society and not the civilisation. The development of a civilisation helps every corner and size develop and grow together and that of society is just a small, mortal part of it. If developing a particular society of the civilisation thinking that the rate of return of one will be higher than the other in the 21 st century is not Halo effect then what is? Thus, today the prison of rationale, the prison of delusion, and the prison of development have defied the existence of the liberty to feel a little more human each day and has thus caged us all in the prison of ideal ideas.

-Sonali Das

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