A recent study conducted by the University of Bath and Texas A&M University looked at how texting while one walked, affected our walking pattern and habits while being ‘cognitively distracted.’ Thirty people ages 18 -50 participated in the study and were asked to complete three random walks through an obstacle course – walking normally, walking while texting and lastly walking while working on a simple math test. Researchers analyzed the walker’s gait using a three-dimensional motion analysis system.
The good news for texters is that most participants were very good at avoiding obstacles, but the bad news is that you would not want to be stuck behind them, especially if you were in a hurry. In order to avoid obstacles or the perils of everyday walking – curbs, steps, bollards and people – they slowed down by decreasing their step frequency and altering their gait while walking. They found that texting caused them to slow their pace, increased their inability to walk in a straight line, and caused them to make large, exaggerated movements in order to negotiate crowds and to compensate for their diminished vision…not unlike the movements one might encounter from a person that is slightly inebriated!
Dr Polly McGuigan, Lecturer in Biomechanics within Bath’s Department for Health, said, “Our study was different to a lot of the studies which have looked at this before because we asked the participants to walk around an obstacle course in the lab rather than just in a straight line or on a treadmill. We found that our participants were very good at adapting the way they walk to limit their risk of injury, and there were very few occasions when a participant hit an obstacle. This may be because many of the participants had grown up using a mobile phone and are very used to multi-tasking.”
Growing up with a smartphone is a good explanation for the participant’s ability to accomplish the task of walking and texting at the same time, as they have become part of who they are…not necessarily a good thing, but a topic of discussion in another article. The study suggests that further research needs to be conducted on older subjects to see if they are able to navigate without tripping or running into objects while they walk and text at the same time, but I question its necessity. Older people may not have that ‘need’ or ‘desire’ or whatever it is that drives young people to believe that anything they have to say is so important that it cannot wait until one is seated.