Walkers may use step synchronisation as non-verbal communication. Here’s how

Walkers may use step synchronisation as a form of non-verbal social communication, according to a study which suggests that the activity may reveal the psychological effects of movement interaction between humans.
Walkers may use step synchronisation as a form of non-verbal social communication.(UNSPLASH)
Walkers may use step synchronisation as a form of non-verbal social communication.(UNSPLASH)
Published on Feb 24, 2020 04:11 PM IST
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Tokyo, Japan | ByPress Trust of India

Walkers may use step synchronisation as a form of non-verbal social communication, according to a study which suggests that the activity may reveal the psychological effects of movement interaction between humans. The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, demonstrated how people’s traits and the first impression affect their synchronous walking as a way of nonverbal communication.

In the study, the researchers, including those from Tohoku University in Japan, divided participants into 10 single-gender groups -- five female and five male. They said group members took turns being paired up with other members, and they walked together along a quiet, barrier-free path wearing voice recorders and motion sensors which recorded their walking movements. The scientists carried out the experiment under three conditions.

In one, they took a half silent walk half conversation condition where the participants did not speak for half of the journey, yet conversed on the way back, the researchers said.

In the other, the participants took a silent walk where they did not converse for the entirety of the journey, and lastly, a non-walking condition where participants did not walk, and sat quietly filling in a questionnaire in a classroom, the study reported.

According to the researchers, the participants had no prior knowledge of each other, and were asked to rate their impression of their partners before and after each walk using the interpersonal judgment scale (IJS). They also misled the participants about the true nature of the study to prevent them from intentionally synchronising their steps.

According to the study, there was an increase in the impression ratings for the two groups of participants who walked together, but not for the group of participants who simply spent time together, suggesting that walking side-by-side, even without verbal communication may be sufficient to alter the social relation between two strangers.

The scientists said conversations further enhanced impressions for participants who were allowed to talk. They said the current study dissociated the contribution of verbal communication from walking step synchronisation, which was inseparable in earlier research.

According to the scientists, pairs with a better first impression had greater synchronisation in their steps -- particularly for female participants. They said personal traits were also important. Female pairs, compared to male pairs, exhibited higher walking synchrony in the experiment, the study said.

Age also had an effect, according to the scientists. Older participants, they said, tended to synchronise with their partners more in walking, and subjects with lower autistic tendencies synchronised better than pairs with higher tendencies.

“It is very surprising for us to discover that a person’s traits and our first impressions are reflected in the subtle action of walking. I think most people are not even aware that their steps are synchronised with other people as they walk,” said Chia-huei Tseng, study co-author from Tohoku University. “It was previously known that a person’s physical parameters such as height and weight affect how their movements interact with others. Now we know psychological traits also have an effect,” Tseng said.

(This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.)

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