Did You Know?

We can’t walk in a straight line.

When lost in the desert or a thick forest terrains devoid of landmarks people tend to walk in circles. Blindfolded people show the same tendency; lacking external reference points, they curve around in loops as tight as 66 feet (20 meters) in diameter, all the while believing they are walking in straight lines.

Why can’t we walk straight?

Only recently have scientists begun to make gains in answering this age-old question. By conducting a series of experiments with blindfolded test subjects, a group of researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybergenetics in Germany have systematically ruled out several plausible explanations for loopy walking. For example, body asymmetries has been posed as one theory, but the team found no correlation between factors such as uneven leg lengths and right- or left-side dominance and walkers’ veering directions.

The researchers also ruled out random physical errors, such as incorrect gauging of how you need to move your legs to walk straight, arguing that these would cause walkers to meander back and forth in a zigzag fashion rather than to trace out circles.

The researchers believe that loopy paths follow from a walker’s changing sense of “straight ahead.” With every step, a small deviation is likely added to a person’s cognitive sense of what’s straight, and these deviations accumulate to send that individual veering around in ever tighter circles as time goes on.

For most of us, the subtle leftward or rightward bias of our sense of direction would only rear its head if we were trying to find our way through a dense forest, or, perhaps, blindfolded by pirates and made to walk the plank. (Google: “why can’t we walk straight” to read or see related videos)

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