The Iron Law of Shoes

by on June 17, 2012 at 4:27 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

That is what Dan Klein and I used to call it.  Now there is some research, by Omri Gillath, Angela J. Bahns, Fiona Ge, and Christian S. Crandall:

Surprisingly minimal appearance cues lead perceivers to accurately judge others’ personality, status, or politics. We 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. Coders rated the shoes on various dimensions, and these ratings were found to correlate with the owners’ personal characteristics. A new group of participants accurately judged the age, gender, income, and attachment anxiety of shoe owners based solely on the pictures. Shoes can indeed be used to evaluate others, at least in some domains.

The piece is called “Shoes as a Source of First Impressions,” and for the pointer I thank @StreeterRyan.  Via Mark Steckbeck, an ungated copy is here, for the price of your email address.

1 Someone from the other side June 17, 2012 at 7:02 am

Time to get bespoke shoes, then.

2 jdm June 17, 2012 at 8:23 am

What’s interesting is not the story about shoes but the price that Elsevier wants to charge to read the paper. Given that the set of people or even institutions who will pay $31.50 to read this paper is likely to be a set of measure zero – something that would still be true if it were priced 100x less than it is – why do they even bother putting a price like that out there? A second question. Why haven’t social scientists followed the physical scientists’ lead and put their preprints on line for everyone to read for free? Physicists have been doing this since the early 1990s. It seems extremely unlikely to me that the reason is that the social scientist’s papers are intrinsically more valuable or interesting.

3 Colin June 17, 2012 at 10:15 am

It’s not just physicists, of course, though they have been doing it for perhaps the longest. PLoS is a great source for several fields of biological science, and is fully open and free. Indeed, and perhaps this may be an error in my overall libertarianism, but I feel that any research that is publicly funded should be open access – I did pay for it after all.

4 improbable June 17, 2012 at 10:47 am

Whenever I mention the arxiv etc to people whose fields rely on closed journals, they always sound horrified that we lack double-blind peer review.

Of course you could just make the paper public after publication, but by that point the journal normally has copyright. Physics journals will give you permission; it would be interesting to know better the history of how this came about… decades before the online arxiv there was a systematic circulation of preprints, I presume this softened them up to the idea of accepting papers that were already public.

5 John Schilling June 17, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Institutions don’t pay $31.50 to read that paper. Institutions pay thousands to tens of thousands of dollars a year for the right of everyone at that institution to read any paper published in any Elsevier journal online whenever they feel like it for no additional cost. This is not an unreasonable deal in general, though Elsevier specifically has pushed the prices up to levels that are starting to give institutional librarians second thoughts.

The per-article purchase option is for A: encouraging institutional researchers to nag the institutional librarian to go subscribe to the unlimited service, already, and B: extract as much money as possible from individual researchers with the occasional strong demand for a specific article. This particular article is unlikely to sell at a $31.50 price point, true, but others will – and the profit from selling a few copies of this article at $3.15 are unlikely to recover the costs of a variable price structure with in-house appraisals of each article published.

And yes, social scientists could put their papers on-line themselves and for free. Physicists, as noted, sometimes do this. So do crackpots. That distribution model works best in a small field where everyone knows who the crackpots are, or for scientists who have achieved sufficient fame that they will not be mistaken for crackpots even outside their field. For the rest, it helps if there is a reputable organization that can put a “certified crackpot-free science” label on a body of work, and that organization will face expenses that need to be reimbursed from somewhere.

Elsevier has the reputation, and the organizational structure and experience, to do that job reasonably well. They also have the mercenary desire to cash in on this opportunity to the greatest possible extent. In the long run, that may well damage their reputation to the point where alternatives are preferable. Actually creating those alternatives will not be a trivial undertaking.

6 Geoff Olynyk June 17, 2012 at 6:18 pm


On that topic, I found this proposal extremely interesting. I believe the article is open-access.

Decoupling the scholarly journal

Jason Priem and Bradley M. Hemminger, School of Information and Library Science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC, USA

Although many observers have advocated the reform of the scholarly publishing system, improvements to functions like peer review have been adopted sluggishly. We argue that this is due to the tight coupling of the journal system: the system’s essential functions of archiving, registration, dissemination, and certification are bundled together and siloed into tens of thousands of individual journals. This tight coupling makes it difficult to change any one aspect of the system, choking out innovation. We suggest that the solution is the “decoupled journal (DcJ).” In this system, the functions are unbundled and performed as services, able to compete for patronage and evolve in response to the market. For instance, a scholar might deposit an article in her institutional repository, have it copyedited and typeset by one company, indexed for search by several others, self-marketed over her own social networks, and peer reviewed by one or more stamping agencies that connect her paper to external reviewers. The DcJ brings publishing out of its current seventeenth-century paradigm, and creates a Web-like environment of loosely joined pieces—a marketplace of tools that, like the Web, evolves quickly in response to new technologies and users’ needs. Importantly, this system is able to evolve from the current one, requiring only the continued development of bolt-on services external to the journal, particularly for peer review.

7 Geoff Olynyk June 17, 2012 at 6:20 pm

Whoops, sorry about everything being a hyperlink. Should close my a tag with a /a tag, not a /url. Why can’t MR just use BBcode?!

8 gwern June 17, 2012 at 6:16 pm

The individual pricing is mostly about excuse-making. The true customers are the academic libraries who can be charged hundreds of thousands a year. For example, JSTOR as a supposed nonprofit makes filings and one can infer from them that something like <1% of their revenue is from individual customers.

9 Mike June 17, 2012 at 10:00 am

I’ve been in sales positions many times over the last 25 years. I always look at the shoes as pne of many qualifying metrics of customer potential. It has been a reliable guide to who makes the decisions in groups and, when dealing with individuals, who is likely to have the money for luxury goods and services. This holds even for people wearing jeans with holes in them.

10 anon June 17, 2012 at 10:22 am

Tyler, there is a message for you at the Ryan Streeter link.

11 Manolo the Shoeblogger June 17, 2012 at 12:23 pm

Needless to say, the Manolo had the few things to say about this at his humble shoe blog…

12 DMS June 17, 2012 at 5:50 pm

Article offers no practical advice on first date.

OF COURSE a woman looks at a man’s shoes etc etc.

The issue is to know whether you are looking for the kind of woman cares to the point that certain shoes are in or out. And which shoes.

For a woman, I don’t believe that most men look. (They look at breast size.)

13 Thor June 17, 2012 at 9:07 pm

But breasts are harder to acquire … off the rack.

14 chuck martel June 17, 2012 at 6:11 pm

If I recall correctly, wasn’t an exposition of this theory presented in the film “Forrest Gump”?

15 alexander O.B. June 17, 2012 at 6:56 pm
16 Willitts June 17, 2012 at 9:35 pm

Why are shoes so remarkable? (not necessarily arguing that they aren’t.)

If shoes tell us so much about a person, imagine how much information we get from the entire wardrobe, his mannerisms, and the first words from his mouth.

Or do shoes convey a truthful revelation obscured by the other signals?

I wear very different shoes based on whether I’m meeting a client, a prospect, or traveling. Clearly that too conveys information because my shoe choices are deliberate. But how is someone who doesn’t possess my information set supposed to interpret it? They probably apply heuristics or project their own biases and preferences.

17 locomotivebreath1901 June 18, 2012 at 11:15 am

How often do you look at a man’s shoes?

18 Mo June 18, 2012 at 12:17 pm

Wasn’t this a key part of the escape in Shawshank Redemption?

19 MattJ June 18, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Last year this time, I had been unattached for an extended period, and I owned only a few pairs of shoes, some in pretty bad shape.

I got a new girlfriend in September, and she cares a LOT about shoes. My shoes really are quite a bit different, now.

I wonder if the study participants would predict anything different about my age, (9 months older! ) gender,(unchanged!) income,(I got a medium-sized annual salary increase!) or attachment anxiety? (unchanged?)

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