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Texting while walking can make us look a bit silly, study shows

Apparently some of us look a bit funny when we text and walk at the same time. It’s not quite Ministry of Silly Walks, but the contrast with our regular walking style is apparently stark enough for researchers to note the fact.

The change in movement is apparently a protective measure to help us avoid bashing into obstacles or tripping over steps, and is evolving as we get increasingly used to texting while walking, results of a study showed.

Related: Belgian city launches text-walking lanes for smartphone addicts

Conducted by Bath University in the U.K. and A&M University in Texas, the joint research team presented 30 participants aged between 18 and 50 with a walking course containing obstacles such as bollards, curbs, steps, and people. They were asked to navigate it three times: once while walking without a phone; a second time while texting and walking; and a final time while while figuring out a series of simple math questions as they navigated the course.

It won’t come as a great surprise to learn that when completing the final two courses, the “cognitively distracted” participants needed more time to reach the end. The research showed that while doing so, the participants slowed down and took smaller steps, adopting a kind of shuffling style of movement in contrast with the larger, more confident strides you tend to see with people who’re actually looking where they’re going. Distractions also decreased the participants’ ability to walk in a straight line, the researchers found.

Related: Utah university introduces texting lanes for distracted students

Besides slowing their pace, the participants also made “large, exaggerated movements to negotiate crowds and compensate for their diminished vision.” In other words, they lifted their legs more than necessary to ensure they cleared a curb, or made bigger steps to get around a bollard or when confronted by an approaching person.

Commenting on the findings, the University of Bath’s Polly McGuigan said the study’s participants had been “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,” explaining “this may be because many of the participants had grown up using a mobile phone and are very used to multi-tasking.”

Despite the study’s findings, it’s clear from headlines over recent years that many of us still lack the skills to perform text-walking with the necessary with grace and style, while there’s also the small matter of possible death to consider. We may be getting better at fiddling with our smartphones while on the move, though the advice – for your own safety as well as the safety of others – is to leave the practice till motionless moments rather than when you’re strolling about.