Horn Effect: This Is How Our Negative Prejudices Work

This perceptual bias could cause us to miss out on meeting exceptional people.

Horn effect

Human beings are imperfect. Due to the biological inheritance of our most primitive ancestors, people conceive an image or first impression of others in a matter of seconds.

This phenomenon is attributed to the speed and agility of the brain to decide and act as appropriate. Well, the Horn effect is something similar : it turns out to be a tendency to form a negative opinion of someone from just a simple and not very detailed observation.

Prejudices as a starting point

Before we dive into the technical definition of what the Horn effect entails, we need to understand something fundamental about human behavior. We are social beings, we need acceptance from others and make a good impression. We cannot avoid it, we always want to be part of an identity, of a group.

As a common practice, in the same way that we intentionally give one image or another, we also express our opinion about others. We constantly prejudge, and we do so pessimistically and many others optimistically. Let’s see below what has been said so far.

What is the Horn effect?

The Horn effect is anything that is antagonistic to the Halo effect. The latter consists of the generation of a favorable opinion about a person as a whole, from the observation of a single characteristic that defines them: normally, their physical appearance. We construct a fictitious mindset based on very limited information.

On the contrary, the Horn effect simplifies the perception of the observed from the attention fixed on the negative. When we become part of a soccer team, we pay attention to the harangue that the coach plays. Depending on the tone, the gesticulation and the vocabulary used, we will think that he is a serious person, with a tendency to a state of tension and anger. Once the session is over, it turns out that he offers to transport us home and we have a pleasant chat with him. Once again, the psychological mold that we had set ourselves is broken.

In a somewhat summarized way, both the Halo effect and the Horn effect are biased and subjective views that have been analyzed by our cognitive abilities. Selective attention to the traits we fixate on is also part of this process. Sometimes we insist on continuing to draw a bad (or good) image of that person in order to maintain our pre-established beliefs.

In the labor market…

We live in an age where everything counts, every detail adds or subtracts, every word denigrates or compliments, and in the world of work this is a very dangerous trend. Especially when making a selection of personnel. According to statistical data, 80% of new candidates do not successfully pass the personal interview.

There are plenty of times that we go to a job interview, with the most appropriate profile, fulfilling one hundred percent all the requirements demanded by the job offer, and we return home disappointed and without having accessed the position. For both good and bad, the Horn effect has a terrible impact on the selection processes of candidates looking for a new professional opportunity.

According to a study revealed by the economic daily Expansión, more than 80% of potential applicants for a new job wasted time depositing resumes or attending interviews called by companies. Managers or Human Resources managers spend no more than 1 minute reading the CV or, in many cases, throw away half of them due to lack of time. They look at the minimum, and form an opinion from very little data.

Some guidelines to avoid the Horn effect

To begin with, we have to insist on the idea that it will be practically impossible to avoid making value judgments about others. We are human beings, and it is a completely natural tendency. However, below you will find some recommendations to follow to avoid this behavior, as much as possible.

1. Self-analysis

When we are immersed in an analysis at first sight of a person we have just met, and we realize the aspects that we highlight, we will have to take stock. If we focus a lot on the negative, we will have to look for the positive, and vice versa. Only then will we get closer to a better perception of what we observe.

2. Be patient and avoid rushing

We always hurry on everything. We live in a time when everything happens very quickly, anything is instantaneous and consumption is immediate. This also happens at the human level. You have to take time, interact more with that person and then evaluate their personality.

3. Not trusting the first impression

The Horn effect responds, how could it be otherwise, to a first impression. This point is correlated with the previous one. We must insist on seeking more experiences with that person with whom we have a bad personal relationship. Perhaps one is one way at work, and another diametrically opposite in social life.

4. Share opinion with others

In some situations we are a group or duo of people who know another or others at a certain time. A highly recommended tip is to exchange opinions with your partner. It is surprising to see how different ways of analyzing the elements radically vary the value judgments.

Bibliographic references:

  • Belloch, A., Sandín, B. and Ramos, F. (Eds.) (1995). Manual of Psychopathology (2 vols.). Madrid: McGraw Hill.
  • Bulbena, A., Guimón, J. and Berrios, G. (1993). Measurement in Psychiatry. Barcelona: Salvat.

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