Mobile phones have transformed seemingly every aspect of our lives, but there’s one change they’re responsible for that you probably haven’t noticed.
According to research by Anglia Ruskin University, mobile phones have altered how people walk.
Scientists at the institution fitted a mobile eye tracker to test participants to record where they looked, as well as motion analysis sensors to record the way they walked.
Subjects then walked towards and stepped over an obstacle on the floor that was placed in their path, which was similar in height to the kerb at the side of a road.
Some of the participants walked while talking on their phone, reading a text or composing a message, while the remainder were measured without using a phone.
Phone users spend less time looking
You probably don’t need to be an expert to work out what the conclusion was, but for the record, those using a phone were found to look less frequently and for less time at the obstacle in their way.
In fact, the people who used phones spent up to 61 per cent less time examining it than those who didn’t, regardless of what they were actually doing with their handset.
The findings also revealed that phone users adopt what researchers described as a “cautious and exaggerated stepping strategy”.
This involves lifting their lead foot higher and slower over the object in their way to reduce the chances of them tripping.
Scientists found that this different gait was particularly common in those who were writing a text, with these people lifting their lead foot 18 per cent higher to clear the obstacle.
This group also walked 40 per cent slower than those who weren’t using a phone, a reflection perhaps of how writing a text demands more visual attention than simply reading a text and speaking on the phone.
“Using a phone means we look less frequently, and for less time, at the ground, but we adapt our visual search behaviour and our style of walking so we’re able to negotiate static obstacles in a safe manner,” said Dr Matthew Timmis, lead author of the study and senior lecturer in sport and exercise science at Anglia Ruskin University.
“This results in phone users adopting a slow and exaggerated stepping action.”
Phone users seem to be adopting a cautious approach when they’re confronted with fixed objects on the ground.
But that still doesn’t mean they’re paying full attention, and as Dr Timmis notes, accidents are likely to be the result of objects “suddenly appearing that phone users were not aware of, for example other pedestrians or vehicles”.
He pointed out that some countries are already taking steps to try to minimise mobile-related accidents.
For instance, China has created segregated footpaths with special lanes for phone users, while some European countries have placed fixed warnings on the ground to alert pedestrians to surrounding hazards.
While these can undoubtedly help to reduce accidents in the future, ultimately the best prevention method is not letting yourself get distracted while you’re out and about.
Stay alert when you’re out and about and only use your phone when it’s safe to do so, so you don’t have to worry about the potential hazards around you.