Published: 30 June 2017 at 16:27
Study by Anglia Ruskin scientists shows that using a mobile phone alters our gait
New research published tonight in the journal PLOS ONE indicates that mobile phones are changing how we walk.
The study, led by scientists at Anglia Ruskin University, investigated how mobile phone use affects where people look (visual search behaviour) and how they negotiate a floor-based obstacle placed along their walking path.
Whilst wearing a mobile eye tracker (to record where they looked) and motion analysis sensors (to record how they walked), participants walked towards and then stepped over the floor-based object, which was a similar height to a roadside kerb, whilst writing a text, reading a text, talking on the phone, as well as without using a phone.
The scientists found that when using a phone, irrespective of how it is being used, people look less frequently and for less time at the obstacle on the ground. In the study, the relative amount of time spent looking at the obstacle reduced by up to 61%.
And at the same time phone users adopt a cautious and exaggerated stepping strategy, which involves lifting their lead foot higher and slower over the obstacle to reduce the risk of tripping.
The study found that writing a text results in the greatest adaptions in visual search behaviour and walking style, or gait, compared to reading texts or talking on a phone.
When writing a text the lead foot is 18% higher whilst clearing the obstacle compared to not using a phone, and is 40% slower. Similar, but less extreme, results are seen when reading texts and talking on the phone.
It is thought that writing a text may increase visual attention demands, as people look at the keypad to type as well as look at the screen to read what is being written, to ensure it is correct.
Lead author Dr Matthew Timmis, Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Science at Anglia Ruskin University, said: