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It seems widely accepted that, overall, men tend to find women in high heels more attractive. (There will, of course, be many exceptions to this rule.)

"High heels may well be the most potent aphrodisiac ever concocted." -- Rossi 1981

However, the increase in attraction seems to be only indirectly ascribed with wearing high heels. Typically this is described along the lines: high heels cause a change in the posture of the female, which the male finds (sexually) attractive.

Question: How can we exclude the possibility that the high heels themselves are not the main cause of the increase in attractiveness?

That is, how can we exclude the possibility that men, overall, primarily just like the sight of women in high heels, for some reason or another?

My thoughts:

  • If the increase in attractiveness were primarily due to these indirect factors, then we should see a comparable increase in attractiveness e.g. if a woman were merely to stand on a slope. (Although, this would not account for the addition factors, such as gait, and the sound made when walking in high heels.)

  • There are things that women do, such as fingernail painting, which increases attractiveness, but (arguably) not sexual attractiveness. It seems plausible that the "femininity" associated with wearing high heels (as with fingernail painting) could be a large factor in the increase in attractiveness.

References
Rossi WA. (1981) High heels: the agony and the extasy. Journal of the American Podiatry Association 71(12), 698-699.

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You indirectly asked two questions, "how can we", but the question title asks "does it increase attractiveness". Could you please clarify whether you are interested in just the process or also the result? Generally we advice to stick to one question per question, but I don't see any problem combining the two as long as it is made more clear. –  Steven Jeuris May 15 '12 at 12:50
    
I see your point, they are indeed different questions -- I'm anticipating an answer to the title question being accompanied by an explanation as to how we know that answer is correct (if possible), which (I think) leads to an answer to the question in the body (but I couldn't say for sure without knowing the answer already). –  anonymous May 15 '12 at 13:31
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Another relevant article: Smith (1999) "High heels and evolution" PDF –  Jeromy Anglim May 16 '12 at 1:42
    
Another article: Smith, Helms (1999) "Natural Selection and High Heels" PDF –  woliveirajr May 16 '12 at 20:10
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up vote 5 down vote accepted

It is probably quite simple to test whether high heels themselves are the main cause of the increase in attractiveness, or rather the changes to posture imposed by them - just let participants rate the attractiveness of women who do not wear high-heels, but, for instance, hold them in their hand.

Alternatively, you could expose one half of your participants to high heels and the other half not. Afterwards let them rate pictures of women and compare the mean ratings of the groups.

In principle, you could a multitude of experiments with women and high heels - as long as the women do not wear the high heels, you can exclude that the effect on posture explains your results.

An alternative approach, suggested by Artem Kaznatcheev in the comments, would be to compare the attractiveness ratings on women with and without high heels while their feet are not visible (e.g., covered or removed from the picture). Finding the same rating difference like observed with visible feet would suggest an effect of posture caused by high heels, rather than high heels themselves. (Actually you would need at least an two-by-two design ([high-heel vs. no-high-heel] x [feet-visble vs. feet-invisble]) to draw this conclusion.)

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or just provide some participants with pictures where the foot is not visible, some where it is (and also cases with and without high heels) –  Artem Kaznatcheev May 15 '12 at 15:25
    
The OP does not want to study the effect high heel vs. no high heel on attractiveness, but rather states that this effect has been demonstrated. Now he wants to know whether the increase in attractiveness is just caused by the high heel, or by the posture modification caused by high heels. –  H.Muster May 15 '12 at 15:30
    
Yes, I understood the question. If the foot is not visible, the posture still is. If you see the same amount of change from no-high-heel foot-not-visible to yes-high-heel foot-not-visibile as you see from no-high-heel foot-visible to yes-high-heel foot-visible then you can argue that the actual aesthetics of the shoe itself do not matter. –  Artem Kaznatcheev May 15 '12 at 15:33
    
Ah, thanks, now I understand what you mean. It is quite similar to the OP's idea to let women stand on a slope, right? –  H.Muster May 15 '12 at 15:36
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I imagine that standing on a slope would produce a different posture than standing in high heels (not to mention wanting photos mid-gait, etc). With what I was suggesting, you can just use the same photos and just crop out the part where the feet appear (or use photoshop magic to place some object to obscure the feet). –  Artem Kaznatcheev May 15 '12 at 15:39
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