Take twelve women. Put reflective dots on their feet, legs and hips to better trace their movements. Now put them on a treadmill behind a curtain that leaves only their lower half visible, and light the scene so that only the dots can be seen. Ask them to walk for two minutes in flat shoes and for two minutes in 2.4 inches heels – and let a number of observer rate the attractiveness of what they see. If you do all of this, you are probably Dr. Paul Morris, principal lecturer of Psychology at the Portsmouth University.
This was the setup of an experiment with predictable results. As my shrewd readers already imagined by now, both men and women had no hesitation in voting the “high” heeled walks more alluring. The very idea of science is however to test and measure hypothesis, so Morris subjected them to another experiment: looking at a video taken in similar conditions and saying whether the dots displayed a male or a female model. All of them were in fact females (remember, kids: never trust a psychologist!), but they were wrongly identified as males in 28% of the sequences where they were wearing flats, and just in 17% of the walks in heels. But what does this mean?
The answer lies as usual in cold, hard numbers. High heels reduced the stride from an average of 49 to 47.2 inches, made them briskier (110 steps per minute instead of 106) and, more importantly, enhanced the hip rotation from 3.06 degrees to 4.16. Minuscule variations, indeed, but just enough to exaggerate the differences in the ways men and women walk, making the girls in heels more feminine on a subliminal level.
Sexologists know that the swaying of the female hips is directly related to her ovulation cycle and thus to her fertility: more sway indicates more sexual appeal to our primate brains. Morris and his team concluded that walking in high heels produces a ‘supernormal stimulus’, which is to say an enhanced version of something found in nature. Hence, the higher the heel, the sexier she looks – and you’ll be fooled every time, because you are wired for this.
Science: a cool way of spending time and money to discover what any fetishist could tell you (probably in more detail that you care to hear) for free.