Psychology Internal Assessment

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        The aim of this study was to investigate the extent to which cognitive bias is present in individuals when judging strangers solely by the western criteria of beauty, in this case, symmetrical facial features. This experiment was done in a British-based high school in which the participants were international students. The experiment was conducted using twenty four under-class men high school students, aged between 13 and 16. The independent variable was the level of physical attractiveness (symmetry of face), while the dependent variable was the rating that the participant gives the sample. The one-tailed hypothesis stated that subjects would rate highly attractive individuals (or those with highly symmetrical faces) with positive attributes, where as those with less symmetrical faces would be rated with negative attributes. The participants were asked to complete a survey consisting of several questions in the likert scale format that were in response to a selected image of either a symmetrical or unsymmetrical face. The obtained results indicate that there is a high correlation between very symmetrical faces (a western standard of beauty) and positive characteristics. This is in accordance with previous research, such as Thorndike’s survey of army officers, and Soloman Asch’s research on the primary effect.


The experiment is framed from the cognitive perspective, which deals with thinking, with a focus in attribution and perception. The halo effect is a classical finding in psychology, and is thought to be an unintentional bias. It is the idea that one person’s central positive or negative trait (for example, attractiveness as a positive trait), influence another’s judgements about their other traits (such as intelligence). Our experiment is based on previous research conducted by researchers Edward Thorndike, Soloman Asch, and Wheeler and Kim.

Edward Thorndike was the first to support the halo effect with empirical research. He defined the halo effect as ‘a problem that arises in data collection when there is a carry-over from one judgement to another’. In his study, conducted in 1920, commanding officers in the American army were asked to rate their soldiers based on the categories of intelligence, physique, leadership and character. What Thorndike found was a high cross-correlation between all positive and all negative traits. After carrying out the study, Thorndike expanded his definition of the halo effect to be ‘an extension of an overall impression of a person (or one particular outstanding trait) to influence the total judgement of that person.’ This is the area of focus of our experiment. If a person is deemed as attractive, then this person will also be presumed to hold a host of other positive attributes as well as this.

 A study by Soloman Asch suggests that once a positive trait becomes a central trait, we tend to base other traits of the person as being just as positive. Asch’s research, conducted in 1946, suggests that the initial information received by an individual is recollected more than the information received later, which he called the primary effect. During his experiment, he divided his participants into two groups, where Group A had a list starting with positive traits and ending with negative, while Group B had the reverse. Participants were then asked to write a description of the hypothetical person based on their traits. The results of the study show that those in Group A gave a considerably more favourable description of the person (due to the list beginning with positive traits), that that of Group B, whose list began with negative traits.

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A follow-up experiment was done, where Group A and Group B were both given the same list of traits of the hypothetical person, yet with the exception that Group A had the word ‘warm’ on their list, where as Group B had the word ‘cold.’. They were then asked to record their impressions of the hypothetical person. Group A generally gave more positive descriptions of the person than that of Group B. Asch concluded that the trait ‘warm’ and ‘cold’ can be considered central traits as they influenced the participants perceptions of their other traits. This conclusion suggested that ...

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