Texting changes the way we walk

Texting (Credit: derriel street photography/Flickr)

Walkers swerve and slow down while texting.

Texting on your phone while walking alters posture and balance according to a study published in PLOS ONE on January 22, 2014 by Siobhan Schabrun and colleagues from the University of Queensland.

Lateral deviations while walking (Credit: Siobhan M. Schabrun et al./PLoS ONE)
Lateral deviations while walking (Credit: Siobhan M. Schabrun et al./PLoS ONE)

Sending text messages has become an increasingly popular form of communication, but little is known about how sending text messages impacts our lives. Scientists studied the effect of mobile phone use on body movement while walking in 26 healthy individuals. Each person walked at a comfortable pace in a straight line over a distance of approximately 8.5 m while doing one of three tasks: walking without the use of a phone, reading text on a mobile phone, or typing text on a mobile phone. The body’s movement was evaluated using a three-dimensional movement analysis system.

Texting, and to a lesser extent reading, modified the body’s movement while walking. In comparison with normal walking, when participants were writing text, participants walked slower, deviated more from a straight line and moved their neck less than when reading text. Although the arms and head moved with the chest to reduce relative motion of the phone and facilitate reading and texting, movement of the head increased, which could negatively impact the balance system.

Texting or reading on a mobile phone may pose an additional risk to safety for pedestrians navigating obstacles or crossing the road.

Dr. Schabrun added, “Texting, and to a lesser extent reading, on your mobile phone affects your ability to walk and balance. This may impact the safety of people who text and walk at the same time.”

Citation: Schabrun SM, van den Hoorn W, Moorcroft A, Greenland C, Hodges PW (2014) Texting and Walking: Strategies for Postural Control and Implications for Safety. PLoS ONE 9(1): e84312. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0084312


Financial Disclosure: SM Schabrun is supported by a Clinical Research fellowship (ID631612) and PW Hodges by a Senior Principal Research fellowship (ID1002190) both from the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia. Funding for the study was provided by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia (ID631717). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Competing Interest Statement: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

Contact: Siobhan Schabrun, s.schabrun@uws.edu.au ph: +61 2 4620 3497 or +61 421568494, PLoS ONE


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