Halo attentuation, and the availability of the letter “T” – furthering the trace.

The Halo attenuation paper is the first paper with reported Standard Deviations! And Eta Squared!

Kors I taket (Cross on the ceiling) as we would say in Sweden.

The n of each cell is also 40 (although I’m wondering if the correct n should really be 20, and the 40 is for a particular marginal effect, but I will get back to that).

We’re now up in 1984, and this is a paper on the Halo effect, looking at whether you can use priming as a ways of attenuating it.

The halo effect, if you don’t recall, is that individuals (and even things like companies, as one of my bachelors students found) that have some really good traits – they are nice, they are beautiful, they are successful, also are judged as more positive on other areas as well. The positive traits shine like a halo, and brightens everything around.

This can be a problem when we want to form accurate judgments, for example, in order to do fair performance judgments.

The halo-effect, they claim, has been stubbornly difficult to short-circuit in judgment situations, and they cite work where raters have been informed about the Halo-effect in various ways prior to making judgments, to no avail.

However, the authors have been impressed by Srull & Wyer’s work on how priming particular traits later alters the judgment of an ambiguous character – making the judgments assimilate towards the prime.

Perhaps, they think, if we first prime participant with some trait, they will then be more resistant to letting the halo-effect influence judgment on the trait.

The trait they choose is physical appearance. The “trait” (or what you should call it) that casts its halo is a teacher that has a warm personality and a lenient teaching philosophy, as opposed to a cold hearted bastard with a strict teaching philosophy.

The traits to be rated are liking, physical appearance, mannerism and accent.

As an aside, I find this order of work…interesting. I would think that the true problem with halo is when something like good looks makes people think performance is better or more desirable than warranted, but what they are testing is in some ways the other way around. I’d be happy if my warm personality and lenient teaching style would also make me look pretty, and if I was a cold-hearted bitch with strict rules, why would I care what you think about my looks.

But, no matter, it is an interesting question.

Those that are primed (81 out of the 161 participants) get to rate what they think about a number of physical traits. For example “ I find moustaches 1) extremely irritating ……8) extremely appealing

The to be judged material were two videotapes from Nisbet & Wilson (1977) depicting a teacher either advocating a lenient teaching philosophy or a rigid teaching philosophy. I’m assuming they use the same teacher in both. He is definitely male.

Taylor et al decided to double down on the halo of these two dudes, so they created short vignettes to be read prior to watching the films. The first one of a warm family man, and the other of a cold grouchy lonely man.

These were all crossed, resulting in a 2 x 2 x 2 between subjects design. That is priming vs no priming, warm vs cold vignette and lenient vs harsh philosophy.

In their analysis, they eliminated all of those that got mixed messages (that is, warm vignette with harsh philosophy, or cold vignette with lenient philosophy). These are not reported at all. Of course, it is interesting looking at the double whammys, but I would have liked to see the more ambiguous/contradictory ones also.

Finally, their measure is one where they rate the teacher, on a 7 point scale, how much they like him- After that they rate the teacher on physical appearance, mannerism and accent using that same scale as in the prime: 1: extremely irritating ….8 Extremely appealing.

They also had a sub-set of participants do a memory test of appearance, vignette and videotape, to see if the priming influence this (they looked at this as a more objective measure than the impression formation above).


In a nutshell, priming attenuated the positive halo effect for the physical appearance and mannerism. Nothing much happened for the negative descriptions, and nothing happened for the judgment of the accent

unprimed primed
positive 4,3 3,4
negative 3,2 3,3
unprimed primed
positive 5 3,9
negative 3,6 3,6
unprimed primed
positive 2,9 2,4
negative 2,4 2,7
Priming x physical appearance F(1, 157) = 9,35, p < .05. Eta squared = .05
Priming x mannerism F (1, 157) = 10, 73, p < .05, eta squared = .05

For some of the participants they also did a memory check – which they considered a more objective measure. Mainly they were interested in seeing whether priming also influenced how well they recalled the information in the vignettes and the films.

The priming of physical appearance increased memory for physical appearance, but nothing else. The effect was small: a 7.8 vs 7.2 score (out of maximum of 10, eta squared .6). I would think this is a bona fide priming effect too – have people rate what they think about various appearance things, later, when asked to recall appearance they are better at it (perhaps because they were primed to pay more attention to appearance). They didn’t remember the vignettes and the videos better (outside the appearance).


Here they used 40 participants in each group, which I would think is much more robust, from the vantage point of 2015. (Nelson et al had some rules of thumbs of what effects can be detected with what sample size. I think this is touching it).

But, this is not the type of priming effect that is described by Srull & Wyer. The vignettes and movies are not ambiguous. Instead they are very specifically positive or negative. The role of the priming is to try to regulate the halo effect – the warm and relaxed guy looks better than the cold and rigid guy, not because they look different, but because the warmth and coldness spills over. It seems to have done so in the positive account, but no evidence in the negative account. But, my suspicion is that there wasn’t any negative halo taking place there anyway, so nothing to attenuate.

Is this really of the same nature as pushing around ambiguity? I’m not sure. I’m not sure how to think about ostensible priming effects, although I like Andrew Wilson’s suggestion that it is some kind of canalization. Appearance is brought to mind, then, when judging appearance perhaps one is more likely to pay better attention to it. It wasn’t a big effect, but it was there.

I’ll stick this short paper (published next in the order) here. I’m not sure it really belongs to the part that extends. It primes, and does so subliminally, but it is not about perceiving people, but judging frequency of words with the letter T.

I suspect that it cites Srull & Wyer (and Bargh & Pietromonaco) because the research was done as an honors thesis under Russell Fazio.

Participants were presented with 2 blocks of 20 words that had the letter T in it. They were presented at 1/500 ms tachistoscopically.

At the end, they were asked to rate, on a 9 point scale which one of two letters appeared more often.

For example: “Do more words contain T or S”. Anchors would be “Many more contain T” and “Many more contain S”.

Target comparisons were comparing T to the letter D, M P R and S. (There were other comparisons).

The Primed participants judged that T was more frequent: M= 5, 25 vs m = 0,43) t(13) = 2,43, p <.05.

I’ll just end with ETA OIN SHRDLU

Taylor, Karen, Bernardin, H. John, Riegelhaupt, Barry J. (1984). Halo error: An assessment of priming as a reduction technique. Perceptual and Moteor Skills, 59, 447-457.

Gabrielcik, Adele & Fazio, Russell H. (1984). Priming and frequency estimation: A strict test of the availability heuristic. Personality and Social Psychology BUletin, 10, 85-89.

About asehelene

... because if I'm in a room with a second person, I want to be reasonably sure I'm the crazier one.
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