We’ve all heard the warnings about what can happen when people walk and text at the same time: walk off a pier, fall into mall fountains or canals, nearly knock into a bear, etc.

texting while walking

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But scientists recently evaluated just what exactly changes in a person’s gait when they text and walk or read texts and walk at the same time.

In short, the appearance of the person texting while walking is somewhat robot-like.

“People when they’re texting on the phone walk more like a robot,” study co-author, Dr. Siobhan Schabrun, told LiveScience. “Because they need to keep their phone steady in their field of vision, they lock all their body segments.”

The researchers from the University of Queensland used a 3D movement analysis system to evaluate the gait of 26 healthy people while they 1) walked without a phone, 2) read a text on a phone and 3) composed a text on a phone.

Compared to walking without a phone, the study published in the journal PLOS One found those reading or writing text messages walked at a considerably slower pace, those actively typing even more so than just reading. The researchers said the movement of the head while texting or reading could have a negative impact on a person’s balance.

As one might expect, texting while walking also resulted in “greater deviation from a straight line.”

The authors wrote that this study is “the first to compare the impact of typing text on a mobile phone on gait performance and kinematics against that associated with reading text on a phone and walking without constraint, and without any additional restriction of field of view.”

“Texting, and to a lesser extent reading, on your mobile phone affects your ability to walk and balance. This may impact the safety of people who text and walk at the same time,” Schabrun said in a statement.

What’s more, we’re not necessarily getting better at texting and walking over time. The study found 35 percent of the group had bumped into something while distracted by their phone in the past.

“That’s quite high for a generation that is supposedly so proficient with our phones, and supposedly so good at multitasking,” Schabrun told LiveScience.

The aforementioned anecdotal evidence supports this conclusion. Some cities have considered passing bans on texting while walking as a result of such accidents.

(H/T: Eurekalert)