Scientists wonder why can’t we walk straight?

Robert Krulwich over at NPR has a very interesting bit on how, when blindfolded or deprived of external markers, we humans can’t walk in a straight line.

Try this: Put a blindfold on someone, take them to a park or a beach or a meadow and ask them to walk for as long as they can in a straight line. Then watch what happens:

I’m always fascinated with stuff like this and I look forward to someone eventually figuring out the reason why. My guess is we’re just kind of stupid that way, but I’m sure the real answer is much more revealing.

20 thoughts on “Scientists wonder why can’t we walk straight?

  1. I wonder how much of it has to do with an unbalanced surface and ways that causes the body to overcompensate. It seems like the experiment should need to be done on a gigantic level concrete slab in order to say better what the cause is.

  2. “It seems like the experiment should need to be done on a gigantic level concrete slab in order to say better what the cause is.”

    Alternately, they should do it twice for each person, once starting from one end of the field, the second from the other. That way, if it’s due to surface unevenness, then it would curve (say) to the right the first time and the left the second.

    Alternately, we could just use a salt flat – not going to get much leveler than that.

    Another thought: Do you curve opposite directions in the north and south hemisphere.

  3. I’d wonder about relations between handedness and the inner ear, too… but I’ve heard this. It’s a wonder to actually watch the report.

    My father always wondered why I couldn’t backstroke straight, and always went in a circle in the same direction.

    Perhaps I was normal, after all?

  4. It’s a wonder to actually watch the report.

    Wouldn’t it be cool if classroom lessons were animated this way?

  5. Looks somewhat like a graphic representation of any politician giving advise, or any fundamentalist supporting his views.



  6. Has anyone done a double-blind study of this? Perhaps we should compare with a person who was born blind? Just saying . . .


  7. Actually, I am not surprised at all about the fact that they couldn’t walk straight. With no reference point, there is no corrective force. Every little thing (be it slight surface unevenness, wind, handedness) can throw them off, and if there’s nothing to correct it back…

    What I think is more curious about it is the apparent clear preferance for one particular side, rather than a wild swinging back and forth – and then the fact that that seems to be to the right.

  8. We have evolved to navigate using our eyes. Naturally, if you take them out of the picture something is bound to go wrong.

  9. If you take a little motorized car and set it going across a big parking lot, most likely it will not track a straight line. Moving in a straight line is a matter of course corrections.

  10. Also wonder what would happen if they walked barefoot. They might need to find people used to walking barefoot though as people used to walking with shoes on might do strange things just because they’re not used to feeling the ground with their bare feet.

  11. what about an inherent fear factor of the mind causing voluntary/involuntary course changes to avoid imaginative perils enroute?

  12. You say that like abnormal were a BAD thing!

    Well, it does have its trade-offs. I don’t think, however, that swimming straight is something that overly concerns me – unless I have to swim away from a distant plane wreck. But then, I was probably screwed, anyway.

  13. Theres a blind guy at UNM where I go to school, whose cane does not touch the ground, just swings it in inch over the top, and somehow somehway that amazing man walks perfectly straight, without hesitation..

    How DO they do it?? Amazing.. Takes great courage to plow along a crowded campus with cars everywhere, walking fast, and stone cold blind.

  14. There’s the difference: he has practice functioning without sight, the others were just introduced to it. As I said earlier, looks like a log clock.


  15. Okay.So this might be a Possible and really EASY theory. it depends on which side of the brain dominates the body . Lets assume a righty :his right arm and leg will be stronger then the left. so he tends to exert more pressure on the ground using his right side and barley exerts his left ,thus causing him to tilt little by little to his right .. I think this explains it.Please correct me if im wrong

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