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Surprising Science

Your Body Goes on the Defensive to Walk and Text

People adopt a “protective” gait when they’re distracted.

The acts of texting and walking don’t mix well in a crowded city where everyone is trying to get somewhere (except for the guy that’s leisurely walking and staring at his phone). Walk a day in any major city and you’ll understand why.

A new study led by Dr. Conrad Earnest of Texas A&M University has observed how we change our gait and step in order avoid obstacles when we’re distracted and texting.

The study comprised 30 participants (18 to 50 years old), all randomly put into one of three groups: “(1) normal walking (control), (2) texting and walking, and (3) texting and walking whilst being cognitively distract[ed] via a standard mathematical test performed while negotiating the obstacle course.”

The researchers took data analyzing the participants’ gait while they walked with a 3-dimensional motion-analysis system. The scientists also took note of the time it took them to complete the course and whether or not they bumped into obstacles.

Unsurprisingly, the authors found participants “took significantly longer … to complete the course while texting” and being cognitively distracted, compared to just walking. Researchers noted the texting and distracted groups’ steps were shortened and slow. When it came to navigating stairs, the participants in the distracted and texting groups didn’t trip or fall, because they adopted a more defensive approach, increasing the lift in their foot to assure they cleared the step.

These findings led researchers to suggest in their paper “that those who walk and text adopt a ‘protective’ gait-pattern alteration in order to minimize the risk of potential accidents.” While a cautious gait is a good one to adopt to prevent injury, it does tend to lead to street rage as pedestrians trying to get somewhere pile up behind you.

Read more at Plos One.

Photo Credit: AFP / Stringer/ Getty


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