Looking at shoes may reveal key demographic, personality information

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(CBS News) To really get to know a person, you might just have to look down at the shoes they're wearing.

In a new study, scientists have discovered that people can judge a person's sex, age, agreeableness and income by taking a peek at his or her footwear. Interestingly, study participants could also accurately spot how clingy people were just by glancing at their  shoes.

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"We were interested in how people are able to form quick first impressions," Dr. Angela Bahns, an assistant professor of psychology at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Mass., said to MSNBC.

For the study, which was published in the August issue of the Journal of Research in Personality, 63 college students from the University of Kansas were asked to look at over 200 photos of shoes that belonged to their fellow classmates. Most of the shoes submitted were sneakers - after all they were college students. Students were then asked to judge the person's personality, attachment style, political stance and demographic measures, like age, gender, and family income, based on the picture.

The subjects chose a person's correct demographic characteristics at a 90 percent rate.

"Age, gender, and income are usually pretty 'visible" characteristics [from shoes], so it's not surprising that observers picked up on them," Bahns said to MSNBC.

Scientists were also able to draw some connections between shoes and the wearer including the fact that high earners wore more expensive shoes and extroverts liked flashy and colorful footwear. People who were more careful wore spotless shoes. Liberals tended to wear more worn-down, less expensive footwear. While aggressive people liked to wear ankle boots, people who were more agreeable liked to wear practical and functional shoes. And, calm people liked to wear footwear that looked uncomfortable.

The subjects were also able to pick up on how clingy - a trait known as attachment anxiety - a person was. If a shoe was freshly polished and kept very clean, it alerted the subject that the person might be concerned about their appearance, which was an indicator for high attachment anxiety. Laid back people who had low attachment anxiety were less preoccupied with these things.

"Shoes convey a thin but useful slice of information about their wearers," the researchers wrote in the study.

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