The Halo effect. I’ve been postponing writing this post for months now, in the hopes of getting perfectly inspired. Well, such things rarely happen – waiting for the perfect conditions to do anything usually gets nothing done. Instead, it’s generally better to just get started and be done with it. So, here we go.

Despite the name, the Halo effect is not about staying up till 5 am with your roommate to finish one more level. Although I do recommend you do precisely such a thing at least once. Or twice. Short of an actual military service, few things build brotherhood camaraderie as well as a few nights kicking aliens in their xeno butts. If you can do both army and console gaming, even better.

Not that kind of Halo. Although it is cool too. Pic from gamerheadquarters.
Not that kind of Halo. Although it is cool too. Pic from gamerheadquarters.

No, Halo in this context refers to the older meaning of the word, a circle of light surrounding an object. According to the Wikipedia article, the effect is a

— cognitive bias in which an observer’s overall impression of a person, company, brand, or product influences the observer’s feelings and thoughts about that entity’s character or properties.

Simply put: you notice something positive about a person, and you tend to view them in a more positive light altogether. Dress well and have a good posture, and people will think you’re a good parent or a spouse as well. Not necessarily based on reality at all, but that’s cognitive bias by definition for you.

The point being…

What’s the significance, you might wonder.

I say: everything.

I’ve written before about how even small improvements add up, simply by the virtues of consistency and time. Pure linear mathematical growth, that is.

Except that the growth is probably more closer to exponential – or at least geometric – when social interactions are concerned. In other words, substantially faster. And that’s all thanks to the halo effect. We are such weird, illogical creatures most of the time.

For example, let’s say that you have been working on getting enough sleep lately, so you look more like an actual person and less like a caffeine-zombie. Additionally, you’ve been paying at least basic attention to your personal dress code, and have a firm handshake. Just having these simple things in check might very well make your new boss (or client) completely oblivious to the fact that you really haven’t been prioritizing cleaning you desk since…ever. Like “Oh, that person must have noticed how good creative disorder is for them. Maybe I should mess up my desk and see how it turns out!”

Yup, it’s that good.

Suit maketh man. Or was it manners. I always seem to mix those up.
Suit maketh man. Or was it manners. I always seem to mix those up.

Halo effect and buffness, the academic edition

I wrote before how supremely important good presentation skills can be for academics. Well, one piece of that puzzle is having your physical bearing inspire confidence in you, within your audience. I mean, giving a presentation is basically all about making people trust your message. If they don’t trust you, they definitely aren’t going to cite you.

And looking fit will make them trust more than they otherwise would.

You’ve surely seen my posts about fat loss, how to move a step or three closer to a six-pack. Well, if you happen to be a more…traditional academic let’s say, you may have dismissed them as superficial vanity, or a fad about to pass any moment now.

But it actually goes far beyond that.

Firstly, there are the obvious health benefits. A recent huge study found that the all-cause mortality among otherwise healthy non-smokers was the lowest for those with a body mass index (BMI) of 20 to 22. That, incidentally, tends to be the most aesthetically pleasing range for most of the population. Go figure that.

Sidenote: you haven’t probably avoided seeing some other studies about the supposed health benefits of being slightly overweight. I’d go as far as to claim they are probably due to the fact that our environment has become so fattening; with constant ad-bombardment for fake-foods of most imaginative kinds. In other words, the slightly chubby appear to be  the healthiest, because anybody who is lean is probably sick. Statistically speaking. Or a smoker, since nicotine is a powerful appetite suppressant. Indeed, it seems that the BMI associated with the lowest mortality has been going up since the 70s. You really think our biology has changed that quickly? Wouldn’t it be more likely that the amount of health-conscious effort required to stay at a certain BMI has simply increased so much that fewer and fewer people manage that. The ones “trying to eat kinda okay” weigh 5 kg more now than the ones in the 70s did.

But back to the topic. The second benefit of getting fit is aesthetic – and at the same time psycho-social. You look good, people think you are good in other ways as well. Wacked, but true.

It’s purely illusional. Get over it.

Talking about illusions: don’t get too fixated on numbers, though. My BMI is on the lower-mid part of that health-and-aesthetics optimal 20-22 range. Far too skinny by keyboard warrior standards, then. Yet, I still manage to look quite athletic indeed with my shirt off, or a well-fitting one on. That’s simply because my waist and hips are even narrower than my shoulders. Couple that with a decent amount of muscle mass and a low body-fat, and the illusion is ready.

Your’s might be completely different, though. If you have the bone structure of a polar-bear, and the fat- and muscle-gaining capacities to match, it’s probably not a good idea to aim for extreme leanness. Looking strong as a, well, bear might a more suitable ideal for you.

But the point remains. Strive to look the kind of fit that’s the easiest for you to maintain.

It pays off. Humans tend to be hard-wired to instinctively trust healthy and fit looking individuals. They are instinctively seen as suitable leaders, or battle brothers, come time of adversity.

Hopefully that never happens, but the physical part of the halo effect is still there for us to utilize.

Beyond buff

And in the combined spirits of Kaizen and AMB, you don’t have to stop here. Artistic skills add up to your Halo as well, in a big way.

Ever seen someone playing a guitar at a party? Attracts both guys and gals as crazy.

Crazy.

But as with physique, remember to play your strengths. I have no understanding of rhythm whatsoever, and have to use pliers to wrench my fingers into the starting position of any guitar chord. But, my singing voice does sound marginally better than a dying whale, so I’m normally the song conductor on our Sitsit parties. (Still should write a post about those.)

Playing my strength, you see. (The only one in that category. More like a lack profound weakness, rather than an actual strength, but my point prevails.)

Indeed, any strength you have, or any that you can develop, can and should be harnessed towards shining your halo ever brighter.

Pretty much the Renaissance man ideal. Even if don’t actually speak eleven languages and perform like an Olympics level athlete, it’s often enough to show off a little something that you actually can do, and people’s imaginations will make up the rest.

Ever relevant. Source and license here.
Ever relevant. Source and license here.

Ad infinitum.

-Antti


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The Halo effect – why YOU should get fit

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