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UX psychology : how the halo effect can influence the trustworthiness of products and services.

28. October 2022 | User Experience

Reading time: 4 minutes

The halo effect is a well-documented cognitive bias. It describes the social psychological phenomenon that a first impression or knowledge of a particular characteristic of a person dominates the overall impression. Other properties are thus neglected or simply ignored. At the same time, knowledge about this particular attribute leads to inferences about other attributes or properties. One particular feature practically “outshines” the other features – hence the name “halo”.

For example, an attractive person may automatically be perceived as intelligent and trustworthy, even though there is no logical reason for the assumption. The “halo” effect of attractiveness outshines the person’s other attributes and causes us to draw conclusions, automatically attributing other attributes to the person that we do not know to be true. It thus encourages quick and often biased conclusions and decisions. For example, if you like something about a certain thing or person, we tend to develop a more positive attitude towards everything related to it.

The halo effect is also important for digital products: just think of digital assistants, bots or intelligent toys.

Do you think this toy robot could be up to something evil?*

But the effect is also relevant for the good old website or apps.

Moreover, the halo effect is by no means tied only to positive features, but can also occur in conjunction with negative features. For example, if we don’t like an aspect of something, we have a tendency to develop a rather negative attitude towards anything related to it.

A simple example that can often be observed in the digital world is poor automatic translations in product descriptions or product reviews.

Some examples of automated translations

Automatic translations often seem very distant and grammatically somewhat “off” and yes – readers notice this. As a result, we unconsciously attribute a certain lack of interest in customers on the company side, which gives minus points in the credibility. We then make these said automatic leaps of logic and draw conclusions about the quality of the brand behind this website or service. For example, an obviously automated translation can be associated with “unkindness” or the like. Conclusions are then drawn such as: “This company does not care about their texts” and “they may not care about their users either” and thus: “They do not care about me“.
All these automatic attributions can even lead to doubts whether you can trust this company, you might possibly ask yourself: if they are not able to translate your product websites properly, what else are they lacking or not taking care of properly? Can I trust them with my credit card information or is this also handled as uncharitably or “cutesy” as the texts?

Thus, a user or customer experience can influence their subjective interpretation regarding other elements and also their attitudes about the company as a whole.

This can be especially critical when trustworthiness is very important. If, for example, banks, airlines or medical products make such “mistakes” – all services to which we entrust our most sensitive data or even our lives – this can severely and permanently damage the credibility and trust in such a brand. But even in e-commerce, such things can lead to a loss of trust and thus a loss of customers. So this is where accuracy and attention to detail is needed, as this plays into trustworthiness.

In conclusion, it is very important to take the halo effect into account during product development in order to avoid a bad impression and thus reduce the risk of losing the trust of usersor customers.

*Thisis a Keepon /BeatBot – a toy for autistic children – and he is definitely up to no good ­čÖé

Sources

Thorndike, E. L. (1920). A constant error in psychological ratings. Journal of Applied Psychology, 4, 25-29. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0071663

The Web Credibility Project: Guidelines-Stanford University. (n.d.). Retrieved October 15, 2022, from https://credibility.stanford.edu/guidelines/index.html

Photo: Torsten Dederichs on Unsplash

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