Walk in circles? It's natural, says study

TUEBINGEN, Germany According to the study carried out using global positioning software, the myth that people who try to walk a straight line find themselves going in circles is actually true.

The study was carried out by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics and published in Thursday's edition of Current Biology.

"What we found is that people really do walk in circles," the lead researcher, Jan Souman, told The Associated Press this week.

He said that studies of nine people walking in the desert and in a forest found that all tended to go in circles and/or veer from a straight line if there was nothing to guide their way.

In the desert, Souman said two people were told to walk a straight line during the day. While neither managed to go in a complete circle, they both veered off from walking a straight line. The third walked at night, by the light of the full moon, but when it was obscured by clouds he made several turns, ending up in the direction he came.

In another test, six students were taken to a large but flat forest and told to walk a straight line. Four of them walked under a cloudy sky with the sun hidden from view by the trees and clouds. They all ended up walking in circles despite thinking they were going straight.

The other two managed to stay fairly straight but Souman said that was because the sun was out.

"The people who were walking in circles in the forest couldn't see the sun," he said.

All nine walkers were tracked with GPS and their routes -- straight, circuitous or otherwise -- were digitally mapped.

Like those in the desert, when the sun was out, the forest walkers were able to stay on a straighter course.

However, put on a blindfold and ear plugs and "people did all kinds of things," Souman said.

"One always went in circles. One went in a zigzag," he said. "It was really hard to find a common denominator."

Souman said similar tests are being done using virtual reality with the results, so far, showing that walkers "seemed to do the same thing in the virtual forest, too."

As for why the tests have been done, Souman explained that the results, along with future tests, will help map how the human brain sorts various sensory stimuli from sight and hearing to help guide people.

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