Walking Texting_TS_012314
January 23, 2014

Warning: Walking And Texting May Cause You To Walk Like A Robot

[ Watch the Video: Texting And Walking Just Makes You Look Silly ]

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Man has probably not evolved to be proficient at simultaneously texting and walking, and a new study in the journal PLOS ONE has found that this type of multi-tasking causes us to slow the pace of our walk, swerve slightly and move more robotically.

The team of researchers from the University of Queensland in Australia said they wanted to investigate anecdotal news reports of injuries caused by pedestrians sending or reading text messages.

“There have been a lot of media reports of people who text and they walk into fountains or walk off piers or onto train tracks," study author Siobhan Schabrun, a physiotherapist at the university told the Guardian Australia.

Study researchers looked at the impact of mobile phone use on pedestrian behavior in 26 healthy individuals. Participants were asked to walk at an easy pace along a straight line over a distance of nearly 28 feet while walking without the use of a phone; walking and reading a text; or walking and typing a text on a mobile phone. The study team analyzed the pedestrians’ movements using a three-dimensional tracking system.

The researchers discovered that texting, and to a lesser extent reading, altered the body's motions while walking. When participants were typing out texts, they walked slower, diverged more from a straight line, and shifted their neck less than when reading text.

The team also watched as participants’ arms and head moved in concert with their chests in a subconscious effort to lessen relative movement of the phone and ease both reading and texting. However, texting activities caused the movement of the head to increase, which could disrupt the body's balance system, the researchers said.

Schabrun said walking and texting causes pedestrians to walk more robotically.

“They hold their body posture really rigid,” she said. “Their arms, trunk and head are all fixed together and they walk a little bit more like a robot.”

Schabrun added that this more mechanical posture upsets a person’s balance, making them more vulnerable to tripping, and if they trip – their ability to prevent a fall.

“The increased demand associated with manipulating a mobile phone may cause young healthy adults to prioritize movement of the head relative to the trunk at the expense of gait stability,” said the report.

The researchers also revealed that over one third of the 26 “young and healthy” participants reported having some sort of walking-and-texting accident.

That’s a significant ratio, said Schabrun, “particularly among a generation who is very adept at using their phones and who think they are good at dual-tasking”.

“If you’re walking along and texting, the key issue is that you think you’re walking in a straight line. But you’re actually not,” said Schabrun. “You can end up having an accident.”

The study team noted that walking and texting may pose an added risk to pedestrians navigating obstacles or crossing a road. In 2011, American hospitals saw approximately 1,000 people for a texting-related injury, according to America Now. These injuries typically included broken ankles, fractures and lacerations.