Walk This Way: The Psychology of Shoes

While scholars and orthopedic surgeons alike may roll their eyeballs at a pair of hair-covered Gucci slides or one of Fashion Week’s towering Ziggy Stardust platforms, the science is in. Shoes matter.

Researchers at the University of Kansas found that character assessments based on shoes were surprisingly accurate. Sixty-three students looked at images of 200 peoples’ shoes and guessed psychological profiles: a more relaxed and laid back person had worn-in shoes and pristine shoes indicated someone more likely concerned with appearance and, interestingly, prone to attachment anxiety or a fear of abandonment.

Shoes speak volumes about our psychological state of mind, and they also affect the way we move and how other people judge our physical appearance. Walking in a pair of stilettos is a vastly different experience than walking in sneakers. We literally move differently, and it’s not just about comfort. Who doesn’t have a bit of extra swagger and attitude when wearing statement shoes?

A recent study takes this a step, pardon me, further. The researchers suggest an evolutionary explanation for the enduring popularity of high heels. In the study, women and men were asked to watch videos of women walking in high heels or flats and then judge their attractiveness. The women in heels scored higher. The researchers believe “high heels may have the effect of exaggerating the sex-specific aspects of female gait” like pelvic rotation, hip movement, and shorter steps. In other words, heels will make your hips sway suggestively.

Shoes are clearly more than just a fashion statement. They affect our behavior in ways we never realized. Another recent study suggests that wearing high heels while shopping may curb overspending. According to the study, consumers experiencing a heightened sense of balance — as one does in high heels — may weigh their options more carefully.

Who would have thought buying a pair of high heels could promote bargain hunting?

I wish you all the best,

Dr. Samantha Boardman