August 21, 2009

People do walk in circles when lost

People really do walk in circles when they don't have visual cues to tell them where to head, scientists in Germany said.

Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tubingen examined the routes of people who walked for several hours in Tunisia's Sahara desert and Germany's Bienwald forest.

Using global positioning systems to record the trajectories, scientists found the walkers were only able to keep to a straight path when the moon or sun was visible. As soon as the moon or sun disappeared behind clouds, the participants began walking in circles without knowing it, researcher Jan Souman said in a release Friday.

Walking in circles is caused by small random errors in brain sensory signals, Max Planck researcher Marc Ernst said.

Even though people may be convinced that they are walking in a straight line, their perception is not always reliable, Ernst said.