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Study: Men might be more helpful to women in heels

You probably already know that women in high heels are generally perceived as more attractive than their ballet-flat-wearing counterparts. But according to a French study, women who choose high heels might be more likely to get a helping hand, too — from men, anyway.

The study, published in Archives of Sexual Behavior, was made up of four distinct experiments, each of which featured women in flat shoes, medium heeled shoes (2 inches) and high-heeled shoes (3 12 inches). Other than their heel height, the shoes were basically the same — black, professional and in fashion.

Two of the experiments measured how likely someone was to agree to complete a survey when a woman in business casual stopped them on the street. The third experiment recorded how many people helped a researcher who pretended to accidentally drop her glove, and the fourth measured how quickly women were approached in a bar, with all things being equal except her footwear.

In all cases, the highest heels prevailed — but only when men were involved. While females weren’t more or less likely to respond to requests for help (or clear signs of a need for it, as with the dropped glove) based on the shoes worn, men were more likely to be responsive in all cases if the heels were higher.

The researchers didn’t try to pinpoint exactly why teetering on high heels makes a woman more successful in getting attention — and by extension, helpful responses — from men.

But because the study features multiple experiments, they think they’ve eliminated some possible causes: Some research has suggested that men prefer heels because they make feet appear smaller, which suggests youthfulness or helplessness. But in the glove-dropping experiment, the researchers walked several paces in front of their intended subjects — meaning that the men who rushed to alert them to their lost glove didn’t have a view of their “tiny” feet, but just the heels themselves.

Other research suggests that heels enhance the stereotypical feminine gait, making a woman’s walk more attractive to heterosexual men. But in the experiment where researchers tracked men’s responsiveness to women in bars, they found that sitting down didn’t make the heels less potent.

So the researchers think that heels have taken on a reputation that transcends any changes they actually inflict on the female form. The media regularly shows women in high heels as being incredibly sexual, the researchers write, and this may lead men to over-estimate a high-heeled woman’s sexual intent. Unconsciously, this may make them more likely to notice and respond to women.

Of course, this study took place in a single country, and cultural responses to heels could be quite different in other parts of the world — including our own. And in any case, no amount of responsiveness from the opposite sex is worth the back and foot problems associated with full-time heel wearing.


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