Personality Predicted By Pedal Extremity Wrappings?

Fats Waller knew which end was up. The mark of mate-ability, he infallibly sang, was to be had by looking down. Shakespeare agreed: he wrote, “Farewell Love and all thy laws for ever, Thy Birkenstocks shall tangle me no more.”

Virgil said, “A fault is fostered by concealment in poor footwear.” And Molière observed, “All the ills of mankind, all the tragic misfortunes that fill the history books, all the political blunders, all the failures of the great leaders have arisen merely from a lack of taste in shoes.” Even St Paul himself said, “Love is patient, love is kind, love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. But love insists that one never wear Crocs.”

With these timeless insights in mind, look at the picture in the upper-right corner of this post. What kind of person would you say wears this shoe? The answer is below, but don’t cheat. Test your powers of observation first.

The answer:

The wearer is a man, obviously. A man’s man, at that. Somebody bold, brash; yet wise, kind to strangers. Discriminating. A fellow who reeks of good taste. A success.

Your list was doubtless filled with these and similar words. And that’s because it’s easy to tell (nearly) everything you need to know about a fellow by fixing an eye on his footwear. As seen above, this was common wisdom even in the Bard’s day. And it is truer today because the number of ways to err increaseth daily. Even yesterday I spied a business-suited man who legs disappeared into black-cotton espadrilles—and this was far from any sanitarium!

Now while it might have always been known that a man’s shoes reveal more about him than the contents of his bookshelves, we did not until yesterday know that we knew this with a certain level of statistical significance. That remiss has been remedied by Omri Gillath and his four-minus-one fast friends in their peer-reviewed paper “Shoes as a source of first impressions” in the Journal of Research in Personality.

Our scientific quartet “investigated people’s precision in judging characteristics of an unknown person, based solely on the shoes he or she wears most often.” They discovered, or rather rediscovered, that folks “accurately judged the age, gender, income, and attachment anxiety of shoe owners based solely on the pictures.”

If you agree with the sentiment “I want to get close to my partner, but I keep pulling back” or “I am nervous when partners get too close to me” or even “I try to avoid getting too close to my partner” then you have the psychological affliction known as “attachment anxiety” which you wear on your feet like a martyr wears his heart on his sleeve.

“Shoes,” the authors inform us, “serve a practical purpose,” a finding which shows why we instinctively trust scientists. Yet shoes also, our researchers insist, “serve as nonverbal cues with symbolic messages.” They are even guides to the “dogmatism and creativity” of their owners. For example, “People who are extraverted…tend to wear more colorful shoes” while, somewhat surprisingly, the rich opt for “high-end brands”.

The experimenters gathered “208 undergraduate students enrolled in an introductory Psychology course” and had them fill out questionnaires and take pictures of their shoes. They then showed these pictures to “63 [new] undergraduate students”. The pics were used to rate the wearers’ “personality, attachment style, political ideology, and demographic dimensions.”

Do you know what happened? The raters’ judgments of the shoe owners’ self-assessed personality traits were barely to crudely correlated. But the important thing is that many of these small correlations were attached to wee, publishable p-values. Which closes the case and officially provides the proof so desperately needed for the commonsense wisdom that shoes make the man.

Not that shoes give the entire game away. For instance, it was found “people could accurately detect attachment anxiety,” from glancing at footwear, “but not attachment avoidance.” This follows from the theoretical considerations:

People with avoidant attachment…are aloof and repressive in regulating their emotions and relationships with others. Given that they generally do not care about how others perceive them, it is less likely that their shoes would reveal something about who they are (Banai, Mikulincer, & Shaver, 2005).

Nevertheless, “unless a shoe owner purposefully generates a deceptive image, shoes can be a reliable source of information.” The authors leave us with this caution: “Do people buy and wear shoes strategically to portray an image, and can observers detect the ‘acquired image?’ These are fundamental questions in personality and social psychology, and they play out in many domains—shoes are merely one attractive alternative to research.”


Thanks to Eric Anderson who suggested this topic.


  1. Speed

    How many of those “208 undergraduate students enrolled in an introductory Psychology course” were wearing pointy-toed high-heeled leg enhancers? Was there a correction for presence/absence of socks?

    I leave it to our esteemed host to decide if this is sampling bias or selection bias.

  2. Doug M

    What have we learned. Your appearance makes an impression. First impressions do give some information about your personality and footwear is part of that impression (small p value). But the amount of information presented by footwear may be small (small correlations)

  3. Katie

    Were the students wearing high-end Nikes? Or a selection from the shelves of Allan Edmonds?

  4. Steve Crook

    I am coming to the conclusion that you’re really a billionaire who secretly funds these barmpot studies solely so that you can lampoon their wee pees in your blog.

    Go on, admit it.

  5. DAV

    What kind of person would you say wears this shoe?

    If worn untied as depicted, I’d say some combination of careless, forgetful and lazy.
    Glad you asked the tougher question instead of the more easily answered: What is the most likely surname name of the wearer? I don’t know why but the letter B keeps coming to mind.

    I has occurred to me that statistics (some, anyway) is diabetic considering the constant attention to the amount of p.

  6. JH

    The wearer is a man, obviously. A man’s man, at that. Somebody bold, brash; yet wise, kind to strangers. Discriminating. A fellow who reeks of good taste. A success.

    Good marketing lines for the shoe, but I seriously can’t tell exactly what kind of person would wear the shoe. My Dad has five brothers. They have different personalities and professions. Some retired. I think they all probably would wear this pair of shoes if it’s comfortable.

    What does success mean here?

    I happen to have just read an article titled “Traits of a successful statistician” in the latest issue of AmstatNews. Good taste in clothing and shoes is not one of the traits.

    Sometimes, the important of being Ernest can’t be replaced by good taste or anything else.


  7. Rob

    “Shoes,” the authors inform us, “serve a practical purpose,” a finding which shows why we instinctively trust scientists.

    I have to admit that that sentence caused a harder laugh for me than anything else in the last few days. Of course, I’m not a scientist, nor have I played one on TV.

  8. Matt

    I couldn’t stop smiling reading this. Well done.

  9. Tom

    Somehow people fool themselves into believing that clothes make the man.

  10. max

    Cap toe indicates not of the higher socio-economic levels, straight across lacing indicates order or discipline (probably outside imposed – military?), color (with mottling) and decoration indicate a very conventional personality trying to be edgy and stylish.

    Middle class/ upper-middle class person with a military background who holds a professional job which involves interaction with artistic types.

  11. Uncle Mike

    My shoes:

    1976 Florsheim Imperials wingtip black, immaculate condition

    2012 Croc one strap sandals, plastic, made in China

    2011 ??? (label worn off) “tennis” shoes with velcro straps instead of laces

    So I span the gamut. The most impression-giving of these is the no-lace velcro strap kind, which my daughter calls “old man shoes” and then she laughs at me. But I can don and doff them in a flash, no fumbling, which is handy here in Oregon where the mud is ubiquitous and we aren’t allowed to wear shoes indoors.

    Socks, though, really make the man. I wear white tube athletic socks, 20 pairs for a buck ninety five or something equally ridiculous, on all occasions except funerals and sandal weather, and everybody laughs at me but I don’t care.

    I am immune to the impressions of others. Especially if the others are college students! It’s a natural immunity reinforced by decades of practiced indifference. If you don’t like it, lump it.

  12. Milton Hathaway

    Red: “Turns out Andy’s favorite hobby was totin’ his wall out into the exercise yard, a handful at a time. I guess after Tommy was killed, Andy decided he’d been here just about long enough. Andy did like he was told, buffed those shoes to a high mirror shine. The guards simply didn’t notice. Neither did I… I mean, seriously, how often do you really look at a mans shoes?”

    The Shawshank Redemption

  13. GoneWithTheWind

    I can walk the streets of any city in my dirty levis, tee shirt and old hiking sneakers without anyone looking at me twice. The man wearing these shoes and the clothes that go with it dare not walk most of those streets. He looks like a target and I look like most everyone else. My look isn’t accidental, not dressed to impress but dressed to not impress or attract attention. We probably passed on the street once but you never noticed.

  14. Alyssa

    I wear white crocs on days I’m feeling lazy. I wear black postal-worker shoes when I’m going out. They are big, black, clearly men’s shoes. I wear them because they last a long while and because they fit. If one were to judge me purely on my shoes, I would be a square, middle aged man, instead of a college age woman. While appearances are important, they’re still superficial things.

  15. ErisGuy

    What insight! I wear sandals, like Roman emperors and senators of old.

    The wearer is a man (you can tell from the visible portions of my feet within the sandals). He is accustomed to obedience, power, and obsequious deference from the lower classes. He can wield a sword with sudden lethality. He dines well every night. He can buy and sell whole populations of non-citizens. Etc.

  16. dearieme

    Oh, ErisGuy, I suspect that we could deduce much of that from your toga.

  17. commieBob

    DAV says:
    15 June 2012 at 12:24 pm

    … If worn untied as depicted, I’d say some combination of careless, forgetful and lazy. …

    Are we looking at the same thing? I see laces going straight across, from hole to hole. I see no knot. That shows someone who is willing to go the extra mile to achieve a small detail. It easily takes twice the effort to tie your shoes that way. (and it means you have to carry an extra shoe lace)

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