You’re at the jewelry store to buy a pair of earrings as a present for someone you love. But you aren’t sure if you should buy the pair you’re looking at. You’re not sure if it is their style. You’re also not sure if the price is a good price. Across the counter, the salesperson is telling you how they’re beautiful and how the price is a great deal.
You decide to leave the store, not heeding the calls of the salesperson to buy. After all, they are the salesperson, they aren’t a neutral party.
People can be very quick to realize when they’re doing business with someone who has a bias. However, these same people often fail to recognize that they themselves have their own biases. This is known as the blind bias spot.
I have written about numerous cognitive biases in the past, but for the purpose of this article, I’m going to focus on a bias that many have, this is called The Halo Effect / The Horns Effect.
The halo effect is the belief that if something is good at one thing, it would also be good at other things.
The horns effect is the reverse. If something isn’t good at one thing, it is believed that it will not be good at the other thing.
Here is an example of the halo effect: There is a pizza store near your home and you find their pizza to be delicious. This store now adds homemade frozen yogurt to their menu. You have no idea whether it is good or not, but given that you find the other items on their menu to be extremely tasty, you believe that their frozen yogurt will also be tasty.
The horns effect is the following case: The bagel store whose food you dislike starts selling soft serve ice cream. You decide to get your ice cream elsewhere because, after all, if they can’t get a bagel right, why should you think they can get ice cream right?
Pizza isn’t frozen yogurt.
Baking bagels and making soft serve ice cream are two very different skills.
Yet we allow our experience with one to impact our decision when it comes to the other.
Welcome to the halo effect.
The halo effect also distorts how we view people. People who are dressed nicely or more put together will be viewed more positively than those who aren’t.
But it is in the area of child sex abuse when the effects of the halo effect really become clear and dangerous.
In the not too distant past, a number of high profile members of our community have been accused of and/or arrested for crimes of a sexual nature against children.
The cries from the community are always the same.
“But he does so much chesed!”
“Someone who leads such an organization must be a tzaddik! A tzaddik doesn’t do that!”
“What about all those important messages to kids in his books?”
“Do you know how many honors he has received?”
That’s the halo effect.
The chesed done over many years doesn’t mean a crime wasn’t committed.
Running a non-profit organization doesn’t mean that a crime wasn’t committed.
Teaching important lessons to kids doesn’t mean that a crime wasn’t committed.
Receiving honors doesn’t mean that a crime wasn’t committed.
When we allow the halo effect to corrupt our thought processing, we are telling the abusers: “If you show me that you’re a nice person, I’ll believe you and protect you when the truth comes out about you being an abuser.”
The halo effect is a giant welcome mat in front of our communities.
It welcomes abusers, protects them while silencing and shaming their victims.
When we both individually and communally start recognizing the lack of connection between a person’s good traits and the possibility that they’re doing bad things, that’s when we are able to defeat the halo effect.
So instead of a mat welcoming abusers, there is a giant sign for them that reads: “Do Not Enter.”
I feel the need to add the following:
The pasuk in Parshas Shemini says: ”The pig, because its hooves are split…” What does it mean because its hooves are split? That is a sign of kosher, not a sign of being non-kosher!
Says R’ Moshe Shternbuch quoting the Kli Yakar: Because the pig goes around bragging and proving that it is kosher due to it’s foot, don’t say that it is treif in spite of its acceptable foot; rather the acceptable foot is also a sign of it being treif!
The same is true when we hear of these famous and “chashuv” people who commit acts of abuse.
They didn’t abuse in spite of all the good that they did, the good that they did was part of their abuse!
It was part of the grooming and manipulation.
The pig shows its feet to be accepted where it doesn’t belong, no different than these abusers.