“Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself.”
– Coco Chanel
“Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself.”
– Coco Chanel
The Horns Effect (or Reverse Halo Effect) – is the opposite of the Halo Effect. It’s a form of bias that causes people’s perception of a person to be negative based on a single negative trait.
No one’s perfect, and everyone has negative traits. The Horns Effect is an example of how one negative trait over-shadows the positive characteristics of a person- how negative ratings of one quality can easily cross over to judgments of other attributes.
For example, here’s a beautiful and attractive woman. She works hard, has a good heart, and has talent in singing and playing the guitar. Although the woman is kind-hearted, is a knockout in looks and has superior skill in music, if people perceive her as stupid, they may also view her as unattractive and untalented. All it takes is an unfavorable rating of one characteristic to influence lower scores of other qualities.
What happens is that people jump to conclusions about a person too quickly based only on one imperfection and end up wrongly judging the individual.
Other examples of The Horns Effect are when people judge a particular group based on the behavior of a few bad apples- they think that overweight people are lazy and have no willpower, that blondes are dumb, that blacks are thugs, that whites are racist, and that poor people are bums. You get the picture.
The problem is that we see something we don’t like about a person or a particular member of a group, then go on judging them from our own unfavorable view, which only determines our attitude and behavior toward them, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. This effect causes us to think bad traits are connected to all other characteristics.
This is what happens when a person is bullied for so long and finally gets fed up and reacts out of emotion. They’re seen as overreacting, overly sensitive, or downright crazy and unhinged.
The Horns Effect causes people to have “selective attention.” They look at one undesirable trait and form an opinion of the whole person based on that one single characteristic. It’s an “all-or-nothing” mentality- black or white thinking with no room for the grey. It’s the idea that people are either good or bad and nothing in between. Bullies and their followers refuse to realize that positive and negative coexist.
This is only a stereotype, and bullies and their sheep are either unable to or refuse to go beyond that stereotype, which then becomes a prejudice against the target. They judge the target based only on their first impression they got from her and refuse to give her a “second chance.” Which only consolidates the bias. They continue to assume the person is bad or evil and treat them harshly or unfairly.
For example, if something comes up missing, people will automatically look at the target and presume him to be the thief who took it.
The victim will then become defensive (as every action produces a reaction).
Here’s another example: When things go wrong, people tend to cut everyone else- anyone else, except the target, some slack and believe that things were only out of their control or if they were within their control, pass it off that “everyone makes mistakes.”
With the target, on the other hand, people will only view that person’s every action with distrust and believe the person caused the mishap deliberately or had an agenda. Sadly, people do this subconsciously.
If anyone else is late for class or work, people will only think, “Oh, traffic must have been backed up” or “So-and-so must’ve had a stressful morning.”
On the other hand, if the target, whom they dislike, does the same thing, people will only think, “As usual, the idiot can’t get their shit together” or “she’s just hell-bent on bending the rules, isn’t she?” “She has no respect for authority.”
This is known as confirmation bias, where we search for and “find” evidence that proves our opinions of the unfortunate target to be accurate, and discount or rationalize proof that doesn’t support our views. People then judge everything the target does.
Understand that people have a psychological need to “be right” about a person. It’s what leads bystanders and others around the target to assume that any lies, rumors, and gossip about them is true, despite a complete lack of evidence.
But if the person is anyone other than the victim, people won’t believe any accusation of wrongdoing even if there’s a mountain of evidence to back it up.
The Horns Effect leads teachers and supervisors to disqualify people who are well-deserving of and qualified for awards and select someone who isn’t. And people will punish the target for a particular behavior while overlooking the same behavior in anyone else base on their personal dislike, disrespect and hatred of the target.
Also, others won’t recognize any improvement or positive change in the target and if they do, they won’t believe it will last. They’ll only see it as, “Oh, she’s just on her best behavior to impress others and get them off her tail. She’ll be back to her bitch-self soon enough. Just give her time.”
At the same time, people may not see poor and unacceptable behavior in someone other than the target. With anyone else, people will say, “Oh, so-and-so would never have done that! That sounds like something (the target’s name) would do!”
Or people will make excuses for someone else. “I’m sure Becky didn’t mean to do XYZ.” Or “Maybe Rhonda is just going through some things and that’s why she snapped and hit Christy with a baseball bat.”
The Horns Effect is the root of discrimination and prejudice just like the Halo Effect is the root of favoritism and partiality.
The term for it is Othello’s Error on teachers, principals, school officials, supervisors, and managers.
It comes from Shakespeare’s play, “Othello,” in which the main character, Othello, assumes that his wife, Desdemona, is having an affair based on her nervous response when he questions her.
In reality, Desdemona is innocent, but the aggressive and volatile nature of Othello and his intimidating questions make the poor lady nervous. Othello takes this as a sign of guilt. It is often the same in real life.
Often, when a person is questioned and shows nervousness, most accusers and witnesses misread the response and take it as a sign that the person is lying or hiding something. It’s how so many people have gotten blamed for something they didn’t do.
Just as nervousness is too often mistaken for deception, the show of confidence is mistaken for honesty and trustworthiness. As we all know, bullies are well-known for feigned confidence and false bravado.
Victims of bullying are always nervous, and rightfully so. Who wouldn’t be if they were constantly abused, shamed, name-called, threatened, and physically attacked?
And people are notorious for rushing to the first possible explanation which fits what they want to see. Should it be any wonder why victims are blamed and bullies go scot-free?
After the abuse goes on for so long, victims learn to expect more of the same, and they usually get it. Because the expectation of such treatment brings more and more of the same, making the victim more nervous with each occurrence.
As the target grows more nervous, bystanders and authorities grow more and more suspicious of him.
The fact is that nervousness has several reasons, and the mistake is often in the decoding of it and not the observation!
“Know your worth. Know the difference between what you are getting and what you deserve.”
Even today, thirty years later, there are other targets from way back who are afraid of telling their stories. Some are scared that it may somehow get back to the people who bullied them. And that the bullies from high school will hunt them down and harm them or their families if they speak out. Hey, Oakley’s a small southern town and they have to live there. Luckily for me, I got out of there.
Their worries aren’t exactly needless either. Many of them live in the same small town the bullies do, and the bullies have powerful connections. Many of the classmates who bullied me are either working in law enforcement (Isn’t it funny how most people who were bullies in school seek out careers that give them a little power and authority?), or ended up with spouses in law enforcement.
People in small towns never forget who they hated in high school and seem to carry grudges for a lifetime. Many of them would jump at the chance if they could bully the person again for old time’s sake. Trust me. I know these people, and they wouldn’t think twice about it!
I’ve heard countless horror stories from others. They were stories about how these former bullies from high school would have certain people they didn’t like pulled over and plant drugs in their vehicle to press bogus charges of illegal possession and ruin their lives. It happens more than we realize. So far, when passing through, I’ve been very fortunate.
I’ve also heard another story from a very reliable source about how one of the women who bullied me in school, handled marital issues with her husband.
Because she was angry and wanted to get back at her spouse, she sent a picture of herself and another man in their home to her husband’s phone while he (the husband) was at work at the police department, all to prove a point to him that she could leave and have any other man she wanted.
In doing that, she baited her police officer husband into losing his temper, leaving his shift and coming home to fire several shots into the home they shared, placing both herself and their children in grave danger. Yep! Talk about stupid!
Luckily, neither she nor the kids were hurt. However, if she would do a damn fool thing like baiting her spouse to do something foolish and make herself out to be the innocent wife who’s so abused and mistreated, then she’d bait someone else with whom she wanted to get revenge on. And most of her friends, who were also bullies, are the same manipulative way, which is why I make it a point to keep them at a long distance from my loved ones and me.
I’ve committed a grave sin by writing and publishing a book about being bullied in high school, and yes, they know about it. Although I never used their real names in the book, I received quite a few nasty and threatening messages from them after the book became available, and a few other classmates bought it.
One woman even informed me that she had contacted several classmates, and they all wanted to meet me somewhere where we could “have a meeting” and “have a well-needed discussion” over what I’d written and published.
That meeting didn’t happen. And it never will because I wouldn’t trust any of them as far as I could throw them. You never know what they may be plotting or what might happen. Had I stupidly agreed to meet with them, there’s no telling what I would’ve walked into. So, I bade them thanks, but no thanks.
No reunions for me. I hope my classmates have fun, but they’ll have to do it without me.
There are times I still get nasty messages from a classmate or two, not often, but it does happen. It doesn’t phase me any because number one; they don’t know where I live. Number two; I could care less.
If I must do any business in the town, I do it without worrying about the possibility of being seen by the wrong people. I know that they would be a fool to approach me today.
The bullies know that if they try anything foolish, and if anything happens to me, anything at all, they will only prove every word I wrote in “From Victim to Victor.” Also, people from everywhere will come around asking questions and guess who they’ll go to for answers.
They will only make themselves suspects.
In essence, “From Victim to Victor” is my protection. The book can serve as a shield from any retribution my old bullies may want for my daring to speak out about the notoriously vile and ignorant way they acted years ago. These people know not to bust themselves.
My other classmates, who were also victims, do not have that protection going for them, and I can only hope and pray that they are left alone to live their lives with their families in peace.
Targets of bullying often get accused of being selfish and out for their own interests. However, anytime we are hurting so badly, the pain only blunts our capacity to feel for others.
Anytime a person suffers severe and relentless bullying for so long, their pain overrides any ability to empathize with those around them, who may also be hurting.
It’s like lying in the emergency room with both legs broken after a car accident. The pain is so intense that you could care less about the patient in the next room. All you’re thinking of is how soon a doctor will see you and order a pain reliever.
I tell you this because it happened to me. When I was a target of bullying in school, two girls in my class died in a horrific car crash during the eleventh grade, and as much as I hate admitting it today, I could not have cared less about it back then.
Naturally, I don’t feel the same today. Now, thirty years later, I’m sorry that happened to them, but at the time it happened, I had absolutely no feeling for the girls and even had the attitude that it had served them right and that maybe I’d get lucky and a few more bullies would drop dead soon.
I had been a target of the class for so long I just did not have it in me to care.
After a person endures bullying for so long, he/she becomes cold and unfeeling toward other people if they aren’t careful, and it will only bring about resentment from people who might otherwise offer love and support.
If you are a target of bullying in school or at work, never let it take away your empathy, kindness, and humanity. It won’t be easy, but there are ways to buffer your self-esteem from the effects of bullying and hold on to your sweetness.
“Your self-worth is determined by you. You don’t have to depend on someone to tell you who you are.”
– Beyonce Knowles