What your shoes could be saying about you
Published: Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 20, 2012 07:09
Anybody who has ever tried to put together an outfit knows that shoes can make or break a look. Flip flops can ruin the classiest of dresses and clunky tennis shoes can take the style out of any ensemble. But have you ever stopped to consider whether your shoes could actually be embodying something about your personality, and not just your sense of style?
Angela Bahns, an assistant professor of Psychology of Wellesley College, has considered this question closely. Bahns, working alongside colleagues at the University of Kansas, recently conducted a study about precisely what information people glean from you when they look at your shoes. Their study was recently published in the Journal of Research in Personality in August 2012.
To answer this question, Bahns and her colleagues collected and categorized pictures of shoes while simultaneously measuring 11 different personality dimensions such as income, political affiliation, gender and age. The researchers then asked people to make assumptions about each shoe owner’s personality based solely upon the picture.
They obtained surprising results, and discovered that specific shoe types and appearances strongly correlated with certain personalities. Images of shoes allowed observers to accurately judge a range of characteristics, including a individual’s gender, personality traits and political beliefs.
The study not only highlights the first impressions people are likely to form based on your shoes but also provides details on several personality characteristics that observers consistently pair with certain footwear. With regard to correctly pairing shoes with owners’ dominant characteristics, “People [chose] better than we could expect by chance,” said Bahns.
Professor Bahns and her co-authors specifically looked at two types of behaviors in relationships: anxiety and avoidance. Anxiety is deeply rooted in worrying. In contrast, “avoiders” tend to keep their partners at arm’s length.
People with shoes that covered their ankles were more likely to fall into the latter category. And here’s the kicker, people were more likely to identify them as such, based solely upon images of their shoes—apparently shoes that cover a person’s ankle project a less agreeable and less conscientious persona.
Study participants were also good at guessing whether or not specific shoe owners tended towards anxiety. Their cue? The more colorful the shoes are, the less anxious the people who tend to wear them. Professor Bahns and her co-authors think this occurs because anxious people often choose to play it safe in terms of clothing style.
“Having a really vibrantly colored shoe takes some confidence, and takes a little more boldness than the average highly anxious person has,” said Bahns.
However, the study’s participants were not perfect at identifying people’s personality based on their shoes. Although people often thought the newness of the shoe correlated with how conscientious a person was, this conclusion wasn’t true at all. Shoes that were less attractive, less expensive and in poor repair—generally “frumpier” shoes—were associated with politically liberal people.
Overall, a lot of what people suppose about a shoe owner’s personality isn’t correct. “As a summary statement, the amount of social information or personal information that you can accurately get from shoes is pretty modest,” said Bahns.
However, this doesn’t mean you can’t use the study’s findings to your advantage. Knowing how people generally perceive your shoes enables you to project a specific image merely by being selective about your footwear. “Shoes can be a reliable source of information,” said Professor Bahns—“unless a shoe owner purposefully generates a deceptive image.”
So the next time you’re standing in front of your closet vacillating between your favorite pair of comfortable tennis shoes and your stylish new boots, consider whether you want to be viewed as conscientious or agreeable. And if you’re interviewing for a job, Professor Bahns recommends “shiny, nice-looking, brand-new looking shoes.”