Spoiled Children of Divorce


“The Halo Effect” and Paul Ekman
July 31, 2010, 7:39 am
Filed under: Stepfamilies, Uncategorized | Tags:

This is pretty cool.  It in part explains why step-parents treat their step-children so badly and don’t have a clue that they are doing so.  Psychologists supposedly don’t trust their research because they fear the part about how they can’t judge the kids subjectively.  The problem is called “The Halo Effect.”

I’ve been browsing through a book written by Paul Ekman called Why Kids Lie.  My basic interest is the chapter called “Lying at Different Ages”  in order to compare what Ekman writes about how kids develop into the lying little devils that they are and the planetary return cycles to see if they line up with each other.  Paul Ekman is a great psychologist, one of the few.  We note that he is a man, not a female (and I’m seriously concerned that this is why he is good at psychology).

Ekman is the psychologist who has studied expression in the Human Face.  He’s an expert at figuring out how to judge what a person really thinks just by reading facial expressions.  Law enforcement uses Ekman’s research and teachings in order to train employees.  I seem to remember that National Geographic had a really fun interactive program on their website that one could play with to try to determine what different facial expressions mean.

I suspect that Children of D have a special relationship with lying that kids from intact families don’t have because they get stuck in the middle of so many of their parents’ fibs.  They also lead double lives which can, of course, lead to duplicitous  behavior, or fear of duplicitous behavior, whatever the case may be.  I have no idea whether this means that we grow up better liars, or more deceitful, or what.  The step-mothers keep pounding in the fact that all step-daughters are manipulative.  Of course, they never say that the step-daughters’ fathers are passive-aggressive (male version of manipulative).  I don’t even think that most step-mothers have brains, but that’s another story.

According to what I’ve read so far in Ekman’s book there aren’t really that many compulsive liars among children (maybe 5 percent?) and his research doesn’t study whether or not kids who lie a lot as children grow up to be deceitful.

What’s really fascinating is a description of “The Halo Effect” that seems to get in the way of psychologists’ studies of lying.  Ekman says:  “That phrase refers to the fact that if you know something good or bad about a person, you are likely to think he or she will have other good or bad traits.”  “I call it the “halo/horns effect” because it can work either way, positively or negatively.  Asked if Hitler liked babies, most people would probably say no.  The halo/horns effect misleads us into expecting that someone bad like Hitler would not do something nice, such as liking babies.”  Ekman goes on to describe how a teacher will naturally accuse a child who he/she has previous problems with and will tend to catch that child doing more bad things just because he will be watching for the negative traits.

Biological parents do this a lot.  Nobody really needs to add Step-Parents into the scenario.  Bio Parents generally have a favorite child and then they have a child who they just don’t get along with.  My Mother liked my Brother best and my Father liked me best.  It was clear that neither parent was really comfortable with that but we just sort of accepted it.

It seems almost certain that step-parents apply the Halo/Horns effect to their step-children even if they don’t want to.  The step-parent has to not only get along with the personality of the child but has to not get irritated by the fact that the child generally lives according to two sets of households.  Besides, blood is thicker than water, and the step-parent will always choose his own kid over the step-child.  And the really ballsy ones pretend that they don’t.

The Halo-Horns effect also applies to how step-children perceive their parents and step-parents as well.  I’m just not going to go into it as heavily because a child has no choice or say in whether or not he receives a step-parent into his/her life so there is a much deeper level of stress involved which apparently will never be looked at in any damned studies because divorced parents work at all the middle management jobs that control funding for such studies.

In this book Ekman talks openly about divorce within his own life as it seems that his son from a previous marriage was a big part of the reason for writing the book.  As a child Ekman also pulled off some pretty serious lies himself.  At any rate, I appreciate hearing a divorced parent talk about divorce.  In 1989 when the book was published some studies were showing that boys in particular suffer from divorce and from having absentee Fathers.


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