At first glance, it doesn't make sense to favor footwear which harm and hurt feet, plus render it difficult to run from ancient and modern predators. But if wearing high heels makes women more attractive, allowing them to be more choosy over a larger number of higher quality males competing for their attention, this could explain the evolutionary advantages of this fashion statement. Raj Persaud What's chic, what's in and what's out, should be predicted by evolutionary theory.
Otherwise it will be judged by history as just a passing phase. Eventually as outmoded as shoulder pads from the s. As women normally walk differently from men, high heels may help exaggerate the particularly feminine aspects of gait. What these shoes do is make women walk even more like women. Male gait involves greater velocity, longer stride length and slower rate. There are also differences in side swing. Men present more movement of the head and greater upper body side sway, whereas women display increased hip movement.
Gait is studied using point-light displays representing the body as a series of markers placed on key landmarks on limbs. In these experiments, the perceiver is presented with a pattern of dots on a screen. Because all they are seeing are dots moving, any impact on preferences or attractiveness has to be something to do with movement patterns, and not static physical appearance.
Perceivers are remarkably good at making sense of the patterns of movement of point-light display dots, and are able to distinguish between male and female gait. Just looking at moving dots representing movement of the whole body, it's possible reliably to allocate the walker as male or female.
Raj Persaud In their recent study, entitled "High heels as supernormal stimuli: Males and females also agreed which were the attractive and unattractive walkers. The authors of the study conclude that high heels are an important part of the contemporary female wardrobe -- the minimum number of high heeled shoes owned by those taking part in the experiment was four, and the maximum The results indicate that the female walk is perceived as much more attractive when wearing high heels than not.
One, conscious or unconscious , motivation for women to wear high heels might therefore be to increase their attractiveness. The effect seems highly consistent for each individual walker i. The authors of this new study contend that high heels appear to act in a similar way to what is referred to in evolutionary theory as a "super releaser. Female baboons with a larger than normal swelling of the bottom associated with the sexually receptive period of their cycle, arouse greater sexual interest in males.
The normal stimulus of a woman walking is exaggerated by the wearing of high heels, producing a supernormal stimulus. But there have been numerous fashions that have not been congruent with an evolutionary model. For example, female shoulder pads in the s emphasized a particularly male aspect of the body. Other styles, such as shoulder pads, will reoccur infrequently over time, as they are poorly matched with our biology.
So predicts evolutionary psychology. But genes , biology and evolution are not the only accounts of our preferences. Raj Persaud Maybe as the s saw Britain's first female Prime Minister and the rise of women to positions of power, female fashion 'aped' men by shouting status and power to blend into the boardroom.
As women took charge, they had to become 'masculine' in dress and appearance. But this should also be a transient fashion if more women achieve high status roles.
Then they won't need to 'ape' men any more. Follow Dr Raj Persaud on Twitter: