Walking a mile in someone’s shoes is all fine and good, but it may be possible to get to know someone just by looking at their kicks. Researchers have found that people can guess age, gender, income, and even some psychological traits simply by looking at a person’s beloved pair.
The study asked about 200 students from the University of Kansas, ages 18 to 55, to submit a photo of the shoes they wear most often and then complete a separate personality survey. Another group of 63 students were then asked to look at the photos and rate the owners on a variety of criteria.
Students were able to figure out the basics pretty easily: Polished and well-kept brand-name shoes were associated with wealth, sneakers were associated with young 'uns, scuffed and ratty shoes with low income owners.
The real shocker was how accurate the students were at guessing psychological profiles. And MSNBC reports that based on a picture of someone’s shoes, the students could accurately identify the owner's level of attachment anxiety, an anxiety disorder centered on the fear that close relationships will result in abandonment.
These pseudo-mindreaders surprised the researchers, who assumed the predictions were based on shoe upkeep and care. Worn-down heels, for example, suggested a laid-back owner, whereas meticulously maintained shoes suggested an owner overly concerned with appearances and therefore likely to experience attachment anxiety.
These students' guesses were accurate for the most part, but a study like this obviously has some gray area — beat-up shoes can indicate a user who is laid back, or one with little self-confidence. Shoe type certainly isn’t a causal indicator of personality.
Of course, this isn’t the first study to examine the relationship between outward appearance and health. One study, conducted out of Newcastle University Business School, linked physical beauty at an early age to better health and life prospects (more friends, higher income, better quality of life) at a later age. Another study suggested that curvy proportions and overall attractiveness was a predictor for health in women (although the same didn’t apply for men) Physical attractiveness and health in Western societies: a review. Weeden, J., Sabini J. Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania. Psychological Bulletin 2005 Sep;131(5):635-53. Outward appearance may serve as an indicator for inner health, but the study from the University of Kansas seems to say that those indicators apply right down to our soles.
The study will be published in the August issue of the Journal of Research in Personality.
Are shoes really the windows into the soul? What do your favorite shoes say about you? Let us know in the comments below.