Angela Bahns' Study of First Impressions

June 18, 2012
below the knee shot of shoes worn by women at Wellesley graduation

Shoes say a lot about a person - at least according to Wellesley's Angela Bahns, assistant professor of psychology. A recent study by Bahns and colleagues from The University of Kansas found that a person's shoes convey a thin but useful slice of information about the wearer.

The study, "Shoes as a source of first impressions" was published in the Journal of Research in Personality. Bahns, with study lead author Omri Gillath and co-authors Fiona Ge, Christian S. Crandall, found that "surprisingly minimal appearance cues lead perceivers to accurately judge others’ personality, status, or politics."

The researchers investigated people’s precision in judging characteristics of an unknown person, based solely on the shoes he or she wears most often. Participants provided photographs of their shoes and, during a separate session, completed self-report measures. Another group of participants then accurately judged the age, gender, income, and attachment anxiety of shoe owners based solely on the pictures. The study concluded that shoes can indeed be used to evaluate others, at least in some domains.

Bahns is a social psychologist who researches the relationship between prejudice and threat, and attitude similarity among friends. Her work tests the hypothesis that negative affect drives the cognitive and behavioral components of prejudice, including perception of threat, stereotypes, and behavioral responses. The goal of her research is to better understand how and when cognitive and behavioral components of prejudice develop.

"Shoes as a source of first impressions" was cited in articles on MSNBC, BostInno, and the CBSNews Health Pop blog.