According to a recent study, texting and walking, one of the most irritating habits that pedestrians exhibit is extremely annoying, but virtually harmless, because it seems that people go into a walking safe mode, while paying attention to something so elaborate as texting.
The lead author of the study, Conrad Earnest of the Texas A&M University, explains how this safe mode that people go into is manifested by walking slower and in smaller steps, so as to keep away from obstacles. He realized that texting and walking is a very popular trend among people nowadays that hasn’t actually been properly studied and yet, most people are absolutely convinced that it leads to frequent trips and falls.
Considering that people associate texting and walking with texting and driving and that people look absolutely disoriented when they’re focusing on their phones, rather than the sidewalk and the people and various obstacles on it, it makes sense that the habit be viewed as being extremely dangerous. Also, the countless horror stories that have been so popular in the media in the last few years, featuring people who have fallen in fountains and open manholes and who have been hit by cars, have built a solid negative reputation for the habit.
Earnest himself got the idea for the study by observing people on the street while texting and walking. He realized that they were not exactly the accident waiting to happen that people think them to be and so he became convinced that a small study would get to the bottom of things.
And so, he gathered 30 subjects for his study and chose them so that they can make up homogenous group. There were both males and females included in the study and they were aged 18-50, in order to provide diversity. The subjects were asked to walk along a specialized Z-shaped path, that included a wide variety of obstacles, ranging from bumps in the road to uneven stairs and even dummies that were supposed to represent the other pedestrians on the streets.
The subjects were asked to walk along the path in three separate instances; walking normally, walking while answering a series of designated questions sent as text messages and walking while answering a math quiz on a smartphone, that was meant to simulate an activity that would be more complicated than texting. The order in which the subjects performed these three tasks was completely randomized.
After closely analyzing the results of the experiment, Conrad Earnest and his team realized that in fact texting and walking is actually not the accident prone habit it is considered. The subjects displayed a slower walking pattern while texting and they seemed to be considerably more cautious. The main result was that they did not fall or hit any of the obstacles. They did however display a tendency to veer to one side or the other, rather than walking in a straight line.
This is actually one of the issues that have been raised in regards to Earnest’s study, because the subjects were aware that they were being analyzed as part of a texting and walking study and this might have caused them to be particularly cautious in their walking and in their ability to keep a relatively straight path.
“We didn’t see a huge increase in barrier contacts,(…) we did see (…) that people slowed down and seemed to exhibit more cautious behavior when walking and texting, but that still didn’t eliminate their veering side-to-side.” concluded Earnest.
While this study offers only limited information on the curious habit of texting and walking, it does shed some light into its development pattern. Ultimately, it remains up to the pedestrian to determine whether or not the path he has to take is suitable for texting and walking or not. There are however certain points where people need to part with their phones for a few minutes, such as crossings, that could prove to be very dangerous otherwise, in spite of the safe mode adopted by the walkers.
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