Biases: The “halo effect” … rock on, sister!

Since Alicia Keys debuted as a coach on The Voice last night, I have a semi-legitimate excuse for reprising one of my all-time favorite posts … topic is a cognitive bias called the “halo effect”.


I’ll explain the picture later, but first, the back story.

A couple of interesting dots got connected last week.


First, I started watching The Voice.

I liked the talent and the bantering among the coaches, but wondered why they used the turning chairs gimmick.  You know, judges can’t see the the performers, they can just hear them.

Became apparent when Usher turned his chair and was surprised to see that the high-pitched soul singer was a big white guy.



Second, for the course I’m currently teaching, I’ve been reading a book called The Art of Thinking Clearly — a series of short essays on cognitive biases – those sneaky psychological effects that impair our decision-making.

One of the biases I read about was the “halo effect”

The halo effect occurs when a single aspect dazzles us and affects how we see the full picture.

A single quality (e.g., beauty, social status, age) produces a positive or negative impression that outshines everything else, and the overall effect is disproportionate.

Beauty is the best-studied example.

Dozens of studies have shown that we automatically regard good-looking people as more pleasant, honest, intelligent and talented.

The sneaky part of the halo effect: It works on a subconscious level.

The halo effect can lead to stereotyping … which can obstruct our view of true characteristics.

To counteract this, go beyond face value . Factor out the most striking features.

World-class orchestras achieve this by making candidates play behind a screen, so that sex, race, age, and appearance play no part in their decision.

Ah-ha.  A scientific explanation for The Voice’s turning chairs


Finally, the best example of the halo effect ever !

A video clip from the Italian version of The Voice has gone viral.

Trust me, it’s worth watching … pay attention to the judges reactions when they turn their chairs.

You’ll never forget the “halo effect”.

click to view video    Tech note: click captions on for English sub titles 


Rock on, Sister.

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One Response to “Biases: The “halo effect” … rock on, sister!”

  1. John Carpenter Says:

    I cannot count myself as a fan of The Voice. I am a little too jaded to think that the stars really do not know what they are going to see prior to the chair turn, and the bantering seems scripted. But I am a fan of your series on “halo effect” and related stuff. I have to fight the way it prejudices my own decisions daily. I should have taken your class.

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