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Simplify! Forget values, experiences and attitudes–just look at jurors’ shoes!

Friday, June 22, 2012
posted by Rita Handrich

We’re always looking for the mythical silver bullet that will tell us how to know what juror is worst (and best) for our case. But really? Shoes? There are first impressions and then there are those things we assume about you when we look at your shoes.

Researchers had more than 200 undergraduates (including some nontraditional students since the age range was from 18 to 55 years) fill out questionnaires about themselves. The questionnaires inquired into their personality and background as well as their sexuality. They were also asked to provide a photo of the pair of shoes they wore most often.

Then, a second group of students looked at only the shoes and guessed about the personality and background of the shoe owner. And were they right? Sometimes. Oddly enough, they were able to identify gender (okay, that one isn’t so odd), age, income and how anxious the wearer was about rejection (termed “attachment anxiety” by the researchers). Much of the observers’ accuracy was based on the use of stereotypes but there were some interesting correlations between footwear and self-reported personality characteristics.

Highly socially anxious people tend to wear shoes that look brand new and in good repair–likely to minimize potential rejection.

Conversely, socially avoidant people tend to wear shoes that are neither attractive nor stylish–likely because they don’t really care what you think.

Extroverts do not wear more bright and colorful shoes. Their identifying markers are shoes that appear worn out (probably from the demands of being the life of the party).

Agreeableness was negatively correlated with pointy toed shoes and positively correlated with practical and affordable shoes. (Although those wearing masculine or high top shoes tended to be less agreeable.)

People who were emotionally stable were less likely to wear pointy toed shoes or high heels–instead they wore comfortable shoes.

People who were open to new experiences tended to wear colorful shoes and to photograph the shoes against a colorful background.

Politically liberal students were less likely to wear pointy toed shoes, attractive shoes, to have expensive shoes or to have shoes in good repair. (Perhaps this should be referred to as the Birkenstock hypothesis.)

This isn’t the most useful research we’ve reported to you, but it’s kind of fun. It’s a lot to remember and it’s questionable just how generalizable this data is to non-college students (who are often gainfully employed and may not wear their favorite shoes to court). Further, we wonder whether people really photographed the shoes they wore most often, or perhaps instead the shoes they liked the most (a logical move for the image conscious). It isn’t clear that a query like “are you wearing your favorite shoes today?” would be allowed in voir dire, although it is possible that the attorney who asks it could be thought of as either creepy or a foot fetishist (or both). It is also unlikely you would be allowed to have all jurors extend their footwear for your perusal.

So. A silver bullet this is not. On the other hand, if you tack this blog post up in the lunchroom at the office, you’ll learn more about your coworkers as they discuss it than you’d ever expect. For understanding jurors, though, we’ll be heading back to attitudes, values, beliefs, and life experiences and how they all interact with your individual case.

Gillath, O., Bahns, AJ, Fe, F, & Crandall, CS (2012). Shoes as a source of first impressions. Journal of Research in Personality, 46, 423-430 DOI: 10.1016/j.jrp.2012.04.003

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