13 Tamuz 5779 / Tuesday, July 16, 2019 | Torah Reading: Pinchas
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The Halo Effect    

The Halo Effect

Why do we think that a Hollywood actor or actress is a humane and altruistic person simply because they acted that way in a movie? Who says that the star athlete is moral?


Have you ever noticed how we tend to revere celebrities even though we sort of know that we shouldn’t?  What is it that makes us think that just because a star athlete is talented and interviews well, that he is a moral, upright, and intelligent person? What kind of logic is going through our minds when we suddenly jump to the conclusion that a Hollywood actor or actress is a humane and altruistic person simply because they acted that way in a movie or a sitcom?


Social psychologists have studied these phenomena extensively and they call it The Halo Effect. Psychologists have repeatedly found that people of all ethnic groups and backgrounds engage in the strange behavior of putting a halo over famous people – even know they have no idea what these people are like in their personal lives. They go on believing that these people have angelic traits until massive evidence to the contrary hits the 6 O’clock news. Even then it may take more time and more evidence before they reluctantly take the halo off that cherished talk show host or musician.


Okay so most of us are guilty of making global judgments about celebrities, stars and politicians – if they are attractive and seem likable we automatically jump to the conclusion that they are honest and have our best interest in mind.


But we also put halos on products and services – not just on people. If a pair of jeans has a designer label on it we put a halo over a pair of jeans, or a shirt, or a car. Researchers found that if a book has “Harvard Classics” printed on its front cover, people will pay twice the price for the Harvard edition than they will for the same book that doesn’t have that label.


Why do people engage in this odd behavior? Why are they willing to dispense with logic and good judgment and put a halo on perfect strangers or a pair of glasses with some stranger’s name on it? How can we counter the halo effect and not fall prey to it again?


Looking at it positively, the halo effect shows that people want to look up to and believe in something “bigger” than themselves – it’s a displacement of peoples’ desire to serve Hashem.


We counter the halo effect by serving Hashem with the same evil inclination that tells us to buy designer underwear. We turn the same urge to buy and own the best material products into a desire to be close to Hashem. We take the same reverence that we have for superstar athletes and other celebrities and use it to think about Hashem’s greatness. And when you feel the urge to buy something because it’s a brand name remember – don’t put a halo on anything other than our Torah, our Tzaddikim and Hashem Himself.


Perhaps it’s a bit easier, here in Israel, to not fall prey to the halo effect. We’re not very tempted to put our faith in designer clothes and jewelry because those things are practically non-existent here – at least in the Jerusalem area. Another advantage of living here is that Hashem forces you to live on a pretty tight budget.


Because people here don’t have extra money to spend on non-essentials, the competitive need to outdo the neighbor is significantly diminished. We also don’t watch movies. I have no idea who the stars of today are or even who’s who in the NBA anymore. As for politicians, we vote for public officials based upon our Torah values or on the recommendation of our leaders.


The greatest deterrent to being fooled by the halo effect, though, is an adult commitment to leave the world of fantasized wish-fulfillment and live in accordance with reality.



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We invite you to visit Dr. Zev Ballen's popular daily web journal Spiritual Coaching.

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  2 Talkbacks for this article    See all talkbacks  
  So true!
Dassie2/11/2018 5:13:21 PM
  You “nailed it Rabbi Ballen”
Dr Alex Pister2/8/2018 11:08:36 AM

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