The Attractiveness Halo Effect


When it comes to food, presentation and taste are connected: the eyes eat first. The science suggests we apply a similar idea to people: attractive people are seen as smarter, kinder, more moral, and so on. It’s called the attractiveness halo.

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“How does the halo effect manifest itself in the business world? Imagine a company that is doing well, with rising sales, high profits, and a sharply increasing stock price. The tendency is to infer that the company has a sound strategy, a visionary leader, motivated employees, an excellent customer orientation, a vibrant culture, and so on.” For more, read Phil Rosenzweig’s “The halo effect, and other managerial delusions” (McKinsey Quarterly).

Could your face be your moneymaker, regardless of profession? PayScale’s infographic suggests: yes. More attractive NFL quarterbacks earn $300,000 more than statistics would predict (with an 8% increase per standard deviation increase in facial symmetry). To crunch more numbers, check out the infographic here.

“A change in CEO leadership is a potentially destabilizing event for any organization [and CEOs are leaving their positions at a quicker rate than ever before]. Yet how many boards of directors have an intellectually honest, unbiased, robust, and disciplined approach for executive succession planning at the ready? Not many do, and the failure to plan is almost as bad as selecting the wrong leader.” Chief Executive highlights the impact of the halo effect on succession planning.

The idea that outer beauty reflects quality or goodness is an assumption we see all around us (and incorrectly learn). Just look at some movies. “It’s a trend that dates back to the silent films of the early 1900s: Filmmakers used visual cues to distinguish between good and evil. […] The trend has continued its way in cinema, think Freddy Krueger’s facial burns, Darth Vader’s large scar running down his face, and Voldemort’s everything. Abnormal skin color, deep, dark circles underneath their eyes, and scary music are all part of the established motifs surrounding movies’ bad guys and girls.” Continue reading at Reader’s Digest.

“The presentation was so exquisite, formal, and silly, it made me feel like a very worldly child. And these were mere preliminaries. The first of five courses of dessert was yet to come.” Ligaya Mishan describes the visual feast in “Cutting Straight to the Chase With Dessert” (The New York Times).


Dion, K., Berscheid, E., & Walster, E. (1972). What is beautiful is good. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 24(3), 285.

Dion, K. K. (1972). Physical attractiveness and evaluation of children’s transgressions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 24(2), 207-213.

Landy, D., & Sigall, H. (1974). Beauty is talent: Task evaluation as a function of the performer’s physical attractiveness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 29(3), 299.

Mishan, L. (2014, February 3). “Cutting Straight to the Chase With Dessert”. The New York Times.


The Halo Effect was created by Olivia Kang, Kirsten Morehouse, Evan Younger, and Mahzarin Banaji. Research and Development Assistants for this episode include Moshe Poliak, Megan Burns, and Cynthia Shen. Outsmarting Human Minds is supported by Harvard University, PwC, and Johnson & Johnson.

Narration by Olivia Kang

Sound Editing & Mixing by Evan Younger

Music by Miracles of Modern Science

Artwork by Olivia Kang