Walking-circlesx-large It’s true, people who are lost really do walk in circles -- very wobbly circles. That’s from a study in today’s issue of the journal Current Biology.
Researches at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Germany attached GPS locators to people and then set them to walking for several hours in the Sahara desert in Tunisia and the Bienwald forest in Germany.
Walkers were only able to continue in a straight line when they could see either the sun or the moon. As soon as those direction indicators were hidden by clouds, the walkers started going in circles -- without even noticing that’s what they were doing and convinced they were still going straight ahead.
The walkers sometimes veered left and sometimes right. The researchers at the Multisensory Perception and Action Group think all that rambling around was the result of increasing uncertainty on the walkers part about where straight ahead was.
In the past, one explanation for why people went in circles was that one leg was longer or stronger than the other, making them tend to walk in one direction or the other, says researcher Jan Souman. To test that idea the researchers blindfolded their walkers to take away visual cues. But that caused people to walking in even smaller circles, sometimes as small as 65 feet in diameter, making the length or strength or their legs an unlikely source of the veering off.
By Elizabeth Weise
Photo: In this picture taken Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2009, Jan Souman, right, scientist at the Max Planck Institute in Tuebingen, Germany, walks behind his workmate Loes van Dam during a test run for his studies on an airfield near Tuebingen, Germany. Souman researches the phenomenon, that blindfolded people are not able to walk straight on but that they walk in a circle. (Thomas Kienzle/AP)