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How Dangerous Is It to Use Your Cellphone While Walking?

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We’ve all been warned about the dangers of using our cell phones while driving. But did you know phone usage when you’re simply walking can make you accident-prone, too?

Scientists at Stony Brook University in New York conducted experiments with 33 male and female adults in their 20s and discovered texters in particular had a tough time walking an expeditious straight line between two points.

First, the volunteers walked 30 feet away while wearing a hood that blocked much of their vision. This was repeated three times, with gaits and other elements of walking measured. Although their vision was shielded and they couldn’t see the floor or their intended target, all the subjects could were easily able to reach the target using their working memories.

In the next set of experiments a week later, the volunteers were split into three groups: one that performed the hooded-walk exactly as before, one that did it with the hood while talking on a cellphone, and one that did it with the hood while texting and able to see the cellphone clearly.

The results showed cellphone activity clearly interfered with the subjects’ working memory. The first group performed the test as easily as they had previously, while those in the talker group walked about 16 percent slower than before but still in a somewhat straight line. But those in the texting group veered off course by 61 percent and walked 33 percent more slowly.

The researchers, Eric Lamberg and Lisa Muratori of Stony Brook’s School of Health Technology and Management, said that these findings, published in the current issue of the journal Gait & Posture, “may have significant real-world repercussions.” They believe more cognitive effort is involved in using a cellphone than many of us might expect.

In other words, you may think you’re looking up enough while texting or talking, but your brain apparently isn’t absorbing the information necessary for you to walk normally. This, in turn, may cause you to misjudge the distance to a curb or fail to detect subtle changes in your walking surface — and could lead to a fall.

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