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People walk slower and 'drunk swerve' when texting while distracted, study finds

A walk-texter like this posed example inspired Dr Conrad Earnest to carry out the study. Credit: PA

People walk slower while texting on their mobile phones to try and avoid accidents, according to new research.

And - perhaps unsurprisingly - they often make large, exaggerated movements to move through crowds and compensate for their reduced awareness.

Researcher Dr Conrad Earnest came up with the idea for the study after being infuriated with people "drunken weaving" on their mobile phones in Bath city centre.

He enlisted the help of two University of Bath undergraduates, Robynne Smith and Sammy Licence, to carry out the research as part of their studies.

They took 30 people and made them complete three different walking tasks around an obstacle course.

The participants - aged between 18 and 50 - did the course while walking normally, texting and walking, and texting and walking while being cognitively distracted with a simple maths test.

The researchers examined the walkers' gait using a 3D motion analysis system and modelled each task to assess the differences between trails.

Celebrities like Paris Hilton are just as susceptible to walk-texting as anyone else. Credit: PA

The authors found that participants took significantly longer to complete the course while texting and being cognitively distracted compared to just walking.

Texting while being cognitively distracted also increased obstacle clearance, step frequency and decreased someone's ability to walk in a straight line. The authors of the study suggest participants - when faced with cognitive challenges - decrease their walking speed to avoid accidents.

They found that texting causes people to slow their pace and make large, exaggerated movements to negotiate crowds and compensate for their diminished vision.

The study, Gait Pattern Alterations during Walking, Texting and Walking and Texting during Cognitively Distractive Tasks while Negotiating Common Pedestrian Obstacles, is published in the journal PLOS ONE.