The Surprising Power of Women in High Heels
Creative research reveals a striking response.
Posted December 31, 2014
Editor's Note: The paper cited in this post was retracted in October 2019.
Welcome back to The Attraction Doctor
Over the years, I have written about different features that can increase physical attraction, making an individual seem more handsome or beautiful (see here). I have also discussed how personality can influence judgments of physical attractiveness (here). Further, I have even shared research demonstrating that the color of clothing, specifically red clothing, increases sex appeal (here).
Today, I would like to continue that topic with the exploration of women's footwear. Clearly, many women care about shoes and take great care to shop for them. Until recently, however, it was not known whether such shoe choices had any effect (beyond perhaps improving the woman's own self-esteem).
Now we know.
The Science of Sexy Shoes
Nicolas Gueguen (2014) explored the effects of women's shoes in a series of four experiments. In all of these experiments, Gueguen dressed a few college-age women in matching outfits (black straight skirt, white long-sleeve shirt, and black suit jacket). He then varied the size of the heel on the shoes they wore and had them participate in a series of tasks. For those interested in shoe specifics, here are the details below:
"New, black leather shoes were used: one with flat heels (flat heels condition), a second with 5-cm heels (medium heels condition) and a third with 9-cm heels (high heels condition). They were in fashion and considered to be dress pumps that enveloped the sides of the foot, the heel, and the toes, leaving the ankles and the instep visible. The shoes had neither straps nor laces. In the two conditions with heels, except for the length, precaution was taken to use the same form of heels: the top of the heel was 4.595cm2 and tapered to 1.591 cm2 at the bottom."
Gueguen (2014) then sent these women out to perform various tasks on the street and measure the reactions of random pedestrians. In the first two experiments, the women were asked to solicit participation in various surveys on equal rights and dining preferences. Results indicated that higher heels significantly increased male pedestrians' willingness to comply with the survey request (with high heels getting an 82-83% response rate versus flats 42-47%). Unfortunately, however, the shoes were not as persuasive for female pedestrians, who generally responded to the request at a 30-36% rate, regardless of the type of heel worn by the requester.
Experiment three measured the effects of high heels on helping behavior. The same group of women were asked to walk around in various shoes, accidentally drop a glove, and see whether someone would tell them. Here again, heel length had an effect on men's helping behavior. Men informed a woman in heels that she dropped her glove 93% of the time, versus 62% for a woman in flats. Here too, the shoes had no effect on other women's helping behavior; they consistently reported the dropped glove just 43-52% of the time.
In the fourth and final experiment, the female assistants were sent into a bar wearing different heel lengths. The experimenter measured how long it took for the women to be approached by men, depending on the shoes that they wore. Men again were swayed by a woman in high heels: The women wearing the highest heel were generally approached by a man around 8 minutes after entering a bar, as opposed to 14 minutes for a woman in flats.
Overall then, not only does a woman in high heels appear to be more influential...she is more alluring as well.
Are High Heels Right for You?
The choice of whether or not to wear a sexy, high heeled shoe will depend on your tastes and your audience. Given the research above, if you want to attract a man, persuade a man, or get his help with something, then you may want to consider a high heel shoe to do the job. Even in a business setting, you may get the agreement of more of the men in the room with high heels on.
However, it is important to realize that the persuasive effect of high heels does seem to be connected to their sex appeal. So wearing high heels does not seem to influence other women (unless you bond with them over a shared taste in shoes). Furthermore, if you would rather not use sex appeal to influence and get unwanted attention from men, then heels might not be the way to go.
Overall, though, there does not seem to be a negative response to wearing high heels from other women, or an overly overt sexual response from men. Therefore, if you are in doubt, you might want a medium heel for a date or business meeting.
Who knew shoes could be so influential? Not only do they significantly increase the amount of attention a woman gets from men in a bar; they also make men more compliant to requests, and more helpful, too. If a woman is looking to increase her social or professional response from men, wearing heels could help.
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Dr. Jeremy Nicholson, The Attraction Doctor
Guéguen, N. (2014). High heels increase women’s attractiveness. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 1-9.
© 2014 by Jeremy S. Nicholson, M.A., M.S.W., Ph.D. All rights reserved.
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