You know better than to judge a book by its cover. Sizing up a person by his or her shoes, however, might at times be justified. A new study found that people deduce certain characteristics of strangers with better-than-chance accuracy based solely on their footwear. One group of study participants completed a personality survey and provided pictures of the shoes they wear most frequently. A second group then viewed the pictures and rated the shoes' owners on various characteristics. Their guesses were accurate regarding age, gender, income and attachment anxiety. For instance, the volunteers perceived correctly that shoes with visible brand names most often belonged to men and stylish shoes to women with high incomes. They also figured out that people who provided pictures of the shoes on their own feet were more emotionally stable. The findings were published in the August Journal of Research in Personality.

But take heed: “Some shoe characteristics did correlate with the shoe owners' personality traits and personal characteristics, but observers picked up only on about half of these cues,” says Angela Bahns, assistant professor of psychology at Wellesley College and one of the study authors. Shoes may help form a first impression, but avoid assuming too much—you might end up shooting yourself in the foot.