It's not uncommon to see pedestrians using their smartphones. It's actually uncommon to see pedestrians not using their phones. Whether they're hailing an Uber, figuring out which corner they should be on with a map app, or just scrolling through Instagram while waiting for the brunch squad to arrive, it seems walking and finger-typing are the peanut butter and jelly of, well, life.
People may think that they're multitasking maestros with all the practice they get, but a new study shows that they're wrong. Mental Floss reports that texting while walking slows down both activities.
The study, conducted by scientists at Anglia Ruskin University in the U.K. and published in PLOS One, challenged a small sample of people (21, to be exact) to use their phones while traversing a short obstacle course. No, this was not some Spartan Race-style mix of fire pits and barbed wire, it was just an "18-foot-long walkway that contained a fiberboard a few inches high and a step-up box." The subjects braved the course while talking on their phones, reading a message, composing a message, and, finally, phone-free. Each test subject traveled the entire thing 12 times.
Of course, having the distraction of a phone slowed the subjects down. The researchers found that subjects also changed the way they walked while they used their phones. Steps were higher and strides were shorter, something the scientists called a "cautious stepping strategy." So not only does a phone slow things down all-around, it makes pedestrians look silly, too.
The test subjects took twice as long to traverse the course while writing a message and 67% longer when reading one. Talking on the phone slowed them down, too, but not as much as composing a text. Surprisingly, nobody fell down during the study.
The findings show that it's probably a good idea to separate the two activities if accuracy and actually getting places are the end goal. Not only does multitasking actually slow down the tasks at hand, everyone looks strange when they're craned over their phones, rushing to get from place to place.
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