In this rapidly changing world, I enjoy walking slowly. When you look around, sometimes you find things you wouldn’t expect, like an article on walking.
I want to quote some information I found on Scientific American this morning, not because it has to do with walking, but because it has to do with what we see when we walk. Scientists John Thoresen, Quoc Vuong, and Anthony Atkinson performed an experiment to test an observer’s ability to judge personality based on walking alone.
“The scientists first videotaped male and female volunteers as they walked roughly 25 feet. From these videos, they created stick-figure depictions of each walker, eliminating all information about age, attractiveness, weight, clothing, race, and gender. The only information available to observers was the gait of the walker, conveyed in the form of a two-dimensional stick-figure.
Participants in these studies rated each stick-figure walker on six trait scales: adventurousness, extroversion neuroticism, trustworthiness, warmth, and approachability. Two questions were addressed: First, were the impressions about the stick-figure walkers consistent across raters? Second, were they accurate?
Raters were in fact fairly reliable in their judgments: if one rater judged a walker to be adventurous and extroverted it is likely that other raters did too. Despite the consensus in ratings, though, the impressions were not correct. The trait judgments made by raters did not align with the walkers’ self-reports.”
So what does this say about how we walk, and what does that say about us? First of all, since the experiment only dealt with stick figures and gait, it’s possible that humans need more information than just that to decided upon certain characteristics of another person. Second, it shows that there is a general consensus among society about walking that allows us to come to the same conclusion about a stick figure’s personality.
Going beyond this study, recent research suggests that people will change the way they walk based on whether or not they are observed.
Subjects were asked to walk on a treadmill in two different situations. First, subjects were asked to walk for a specified period of time, but were not told why they were doing so. Second, subjects were asked to walk for a specified period of time, but were told that they were being watched by a camera somewhere in the room.
In reality, both of these trials were taped, but the same camera in the same position in the room.
The results were stunning. Women tended to swing their hips more on the treadmill when they were told they were being observed, and men tended to stand up straight as they walked.
Take these findings as you will, but they do propose some interesting questions about human behavior.