I had a nice little chuckle after reading a new study from University of Kansas and Wellesley College psychologists illustrating how we judge other people’s personalities, status, and political views based on something as simple (and shallow) as their shoes. They also wanted to see how well those assessments correlated with real personality traits.
In the study, published in the Journal of Research in Personality, the researchers asked 63 undergraduate students to look at more than 200 photos of favorite shoes that were submitted by fellow students and to rate the wearers personalities, whether they were clingy or detached in their relationships, and whether their political ideology was liberal or conservative. They then compared those assessments with the shoe owners’ self-assessments of their personality and found that there was a significant correlation for several personality traits and relationship styles—but not political beliefs.
“People guessed that liberals wore less attractive shoes, in worse repair, and less stylish,” said study co-author Angela Bahns, an assistant professor of psychology at Wellesley. “But when we looked at the true personality data it wasn’t the case.”
Which first impressions actually tracked with the data? Students rated those who wore high tops and masculine shoes as having less agreeable personalities, which did correlate with the self-assessments. They also said that those who wore neutral shoe colors (brown, tan, gray, black) were more likely to have anxiety over their relationships—he doesn’t love me as much as I love him—whereas those who wore more colorful shoes had more confidence in their relationships.
Interestingly, the raters assumed that people who had more attractive and well-kept shoes tended to be more conscientious, but that wasn’t the case on the self-assessments. That scores points for me, given the well-worn shoes I favor in the photo shown above.
Yet conscientiousness did track with the background color of the submitted shoe photo. Those who added colorful backgrounds to their submitted photos were higher on the conscientious scale than those who used a plain white or dull background.
Does the keyboard and mouse in my photo—which I took before I read this detail of the study—rate me higher or lower on the hard-worker scale?
Some of the conclusions drawn, however, were fairly obvious: Attractive and stylish shoes were correctly correlated with a higher income. Men tended to wear more expensive shoes than women. Remember, these were college students, so most of them wore sneakers, sandals, and flip flops, not wingtips and Louboutins.