What Your Sidewalk Walking Style Says About You, According To Science

Being born in one of the world's greatest cities (London) and having visited a quite few more (Berlin, Barcelona, New York City), I can attest to the fact that we all have a lot in common when it comes to getting around: We do a fair amount of it on our feet. But new research into our individual sidewalk walking style can provide insight into what kind of person we really are. Who knew that how we handle ourselves while dodging fellow pedestrians could reveal so much about our personalities?

Two recent studies at Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich examined the way in which we amble around our cities, with the emphasis on the way in which we navigate those awkward, near-miss pavement collisions. You know the type: You're late for a meeting and almost bump hips with somebody even later than you. But trying to second guess their next move isn't really working, and you end up partaking in a little sidewalk salsa, sans music. The other person's getting annoyed, while you're just focusing on simultaneously trying to avoid direct eye contact whilst holding onto your iPhone, coffee, and bag. It's a cringe-inducing mess that's all to common in urban spaces.So, to investigate what kind of sidewalk walkers occupy the concrete jungles so many of us call home, researchers asked 20 participants in the first study to walk diagonally across rooms in pairs for 270 trials. Then, t measured 14 different personality traits analyzing aggression, impulsivity achievement orientation, and other areas. Participants were also given reflective sensors to wear and were recorded on video walking from side of the room to the other over a distance of about 22 feet.


The experiments yielded two fascinating pieces of information: First, researchers found that it's easy to predict which person is going to be the first or second to pass in a potential collision because it's signalled really early on through our body language (which as we all know, is the true indicator of what we're thinking). And second, we apparently have preferred modes of collision avoidance which can be broken down into three different types.

Here's what those types are and what they say about us as people:

1. The "Me First" Walker


According to the study, some people always made sure they went first when it came to getting from point A to B as a flaneur. According to the study, the more aggressive walkers adjust their path early on and give a “symbolic cue” to the way-givers. This method is most likely to reduce the chance of pavement footsie, apparently.

2. The Givers


If you're a Giver, you wait for the cue from the more dominant walker. (Totally not me when I'm in a rush. Sorry). They pair nicely with the "Me First" Walkers.

3. The Planners


In contrast to the other two types, there are also those of us who adjust our strategy depending on what the other person is doing. Although flexibility is often a virtue, when it comes to sidewalk negotiation, it can more often than not result in that half-walk, half-shuffle around each other until one person eventually manages to break free. Awkward.

Here's the really interesting bit, though: Overall, the study authors found that sidewalk contact is mainly caused by "strategies in human locomotion [and] situational characteristics rather than on personal characteristics" — meaning that even though you might be really concerned with how your body language makes you come across in public, it's all down to the sidewalk situation on the day: How preoccupied you are, what you're holding, how busy the other person is, etc. And in the big cities (judging from my own experience, anyway), these situations are more than likely to produce collisions everywhere. Basically, when you're living in a thriving metropolis surrounded by millions of busy people also glued to their smartphones, the awkward human encounter that is the sidewalk shuffle is something that we're probably just going to have to put up with.

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