Dating & Relationships, Gender

Women In Heels And Men Walking Dogs Are More Likely To Receive Help From Strangers

December 21, 2015 by Justin Lehmiller


If a stranger on the street asks for help, how likely would that person be to receive assistance? If the requestor is a woman in high heels or a man walking a dog, research suggests that their odds would be pretty good.

Let’s talk shoes and helping first. In a new set of studies published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, scientists found that women wearing high heels (compared to women wearing flat shoes) were faster to be approached by men in a bar and were more likely to receive help from male strangers on the street—and the higher the heel, the bigger the effect.

By contrast, type of shoes had no effect on the likelihood of a woman receiving help from female pedestrians.

[Editor’s Note: In October 2019, this study was officially retracted by the journal. The retraction notice reads: “Following an institutional investigation, it was concluded that the article has serious methodological weaknesses and statistical errors. The data reported in this article are therefore unreliable.”]

Now let’s talk dogs and helping. In a 2008 set of studies published in the journal Anthrozoos (and, incidentally, led by the same researcher), men walking a dog were more likely to receive help from strangers (both male and female) and were more successful in obtaining phone numbers from female passerby compared to men who were walking alone.

In these studies, the dog was always the same—described in the paper as “a mongrel of medium height (42 cm) and weight (11.4 kg), with a black, mid-length coat. In a previous evaluation conducted in the street with 47 men and women, this dog was evaluated as kind, dynamic, and pleasant.” In other words, it was a friendly mutt.

In one of the studies, men asked strangers for money to help pay for their bus fare. The presence of a dog increased the odds of receiving money threefold (11.3% when alone vs. 35% with a dog).

In another study, men “accidentally” dropped some coins on the ground. When alone, a little over half of them (57.5%) received help; with a dog, the vast majority (87.5%) received help.

In both of these studies, there were no differences in likelihood of receiving help from a man or from a woman.

In yet another study, men approached women on the street, complimented them, and asked for their phone number so that they could get together later for a drink. Men walking dogs were three times as successful in getting phone numbers (9.2% when alone vs. 28.3% with a dog).

As with all research, these pet studies have their limitations, which include some concerns about the generalizability of the findings. For example, they were obtained in a country (France) where dogs are very popular. In addition, the men asking for help were quite young (20-22).

Also, it is unclear exactly what accounts for these effects. The authors suggest that pet ownership may be revealing of desirable personal characteristics in men and that this is what leads people to be more helpful toward them. More research is needed to verify this, but other published studies on pets and sex appeal are consistent with this idea.

That said, these studies suggest that we’re not equally likely to approach and assist everyone we meet on the street and that, in making decisions about who to help, shoes and pets are among the many cues that people might take into consideration.

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Image Source: Katsai

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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