Why do actors need to know about the Halo Effect??

It will help prevent an actor making basic mistakes.  That’s why!!

This pic has nothing to do with this article - I just want to share images of my holiday on the Ningaloo Reef

The term ‘Halo Effect’ has been used in psychology for over a century, but it has not come into wide use in every day language.  So, says Nobel Laureate and psychologist Daniel Kahneman in his book ‘Thinking, fast and slow’.  He argues our lack of knowledge of this is “a pity … because … (it) is a common bias that plays a large part in shaping our view of people and situations.”

AND that’s what actors do ALL THE TIME.  Actors shape views about the nature of the characters they play and the situations they face.  Actors need to understand the biases that operate under these circumstances.

In explaining this concept Daniel Kahneman asks the question, “What do you think of Ben and Alan?

Alan: intelligent – industrious – impulsive – critical – stubborn – envious

Ben: envious – stubborn – critical – impulsive – industrious – intelligent

“If you are like most of us,” Daniel writes, “you viewed Alan much more favorably than Ben.  The initial traits in the list change the meaning of the traits that appear later.”

I agree.  I viewed Alan more favourably than Ben.  That is the ‘HALO EFFECT’ of the first or most potent description we encounter.

This is a book I read on my holiday.

Further says Daniel, the Halo Effect “increases the weight of first impressions, sometimes to the point that subsequent information is mostly wasted.”

I have seen this happen to actors time and time again.  The halo effect of a first impression gained on the initial reading of the script will keep dragging the actor back to one limited point of view of the scene despite their clear intention to change.  I recently watched this happen in an Audition Workshop causing the Casting Director to make a very negative judgement about the actor.

Was this an inadequacy in the actor?

Daniel Kahneman argues that it’s an inadequacy we ALL have.  Our minds simply work that way and that’s not going to change.  All we can do is work at managing these functions.  He points out that we can often make a DEFINITIVE CHOICE without being aware that we have been so definite.  We frequently miss the possibility of ambiguities.

The Rehearsal Room believes that the theories of this psychologist are constantly confirmed by the way actors make their decisions about how to address a scene.

How can we get around this if we can make these intuitive decisions without knowing that a bias has generated a very one-sided view?


Another pic from my Exmouth holiday in the sun

It’s not very difficult for an actor to significantly reduce the possibility of making such a mistake.  This is done by making sure that you move out of your intuitive or ‘fast thinking’ process, where biases hide unnoticed, into your ‘slow thinking’ mode.  The Rehearsal Room tip is … every time you make a decision about …

  • an approach to a scene
  • a reason for a conversation
  • a character’s nature
  • a reason for a line or
  • an appropriate action/movement

… then IMMEDIATELY come up with an opposite one.  That way you remain open to the ambiguities and have a much greater chance of being aware of your unconscious bias.  It will mean that you are more open to change in the audition room and it may well mean that you find other readings of a scene that are different from everyone else.

Why do 9 out of 10 actors bring the same reading of a scene into the audition room?  It’s because of the halo effect.

Make sure you know about it.



(“Thinking, fast and slow” by Daniel Kahneman is published by Allen Lane.  It’s a book on psychology which is highly recommended for any actors reading list.)



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