Why Can't (Blindfolded) People Walk Straight?

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Today, a short science video from NPR contributor Robert Krulwich (of RadioLab fame), animated by Benjamin Arthur. Krulwich describes a series of experiments in which blindfolded people are asked to walk (or drive) in a straight line -- and then maps are made showing the routes they walk instead.

It's certainly a curious effect, and I recall hearing something like this in the context of lost-in-the-woods survival as well -- there's that old notion about just staying where you are rather than striking out, partly because an untrained person is much better at staying in one location than in predictably reaching some next location. But I think a more interesting set of questions is: can we actually walk in a straight line without a blindfold? (Or at least, how "straight" is that walking); and whether it is practically useful to walk in straight lines over great distances while blindfolded (in other words, in the dark, the fog, etc.). While I'm no scientician, it seems that walking in loops in the dark may actually be a reasonable strategy for returning to your home camp (or cave, or barn, or whatever), and thus might actually be a good thing from a survival perspective.

Anyway, check this out -- it's short, enlightening, and a little funny:

A Mystery: Why Can't We Walk Straight? from NPR on Vimeo.

(Via Daring Fireball.)

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January 25, 2011 - 7:36am
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