How you avoid other pedestrians on paths says a lot about you, according to science

Research into "collision avoidance" in urban places found three distinct type of city strollers

Walking, City, Path, Sidewalk, Collision, Ludwig-Maximilian University, Munich

Shibuya crossing in Tokyo, one of the world's busiest zebra crossing [Flickr/Jerry Lee]

Battling your way through the narrow paths of Irish cities and towns as a pedestrian while someone in front of you re-enacts Singing in the Rain while brandishing a golf umbrella the size of the Millennium Dome can bring out the worst in anyone of us. But even when the sun is shining, weaving through gangs of Iberian teens or around poorly positioned ATM users can reveal the innermost frustrations of our subconscious like nothing else. And now science has weighed in, with a new study into pedestrian patterns uncovering new insights into our personalities.

Two recent studies carried out in Munich’s Ludwig-Maximilian University have followed how we stroll through cities, paying particular attention to how we circumvent near collisions with people whose entire goal appears to be getting in your way.

The researchers asked 20 volunteers to make their way from point A to B, a diagonal line across a room roughly seven metres long. Participants took part in pairs, with 270 separate trials observed, their body patterns graphed and analysed, while a second study also investigated their personality traits for signs of aggression, impulsivity, and other characteristics.

After crunching the numbers, the study produced two interesting insights into how you stroll reflects who you are as a person: firstly, lead author Alexander Knorr wrote that it became easy for the research team to predict which person in the pair was likely going to make the first move to avoid a collision. This person exhibits body language that makes it clear to the other person very early on in the ambulatory process. And secondly, when it comes to pulling a move to prevent bumping into someone else, three different styles of walkers emerged.

The ‘Me First Walker’, according to the research, always makes the first move to ensure their path from A to B remains unimpeded, giving the ‘Givers’, those happy to acquiesce and make way, a “symbolic cue” that they should make way for the dominant walker.

While the above pair lives and walks in a perfectly balanced world of sidewalk symbiosis, trouble comes in the shape of the ‘Planners’, walkers whose tendency to shape their stroll based on what the other person is doing can result in “conflicting role assignment,” and giving way to that awkward collision where you both go the same direction, and then the opposite direction, and then have to smile it off despite hoping a sinkhole could just open up beneath you and swallow you up.

Other environmental factors also play a role in the dance, from what you’re holding to how preoccupied you are that day. But one thing is for certain, when it comes to marching through towns and cities, pirouettes on paths are just a way of life.

[H/T: Science of Us]

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