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    Study shows texting while walking could be dangerous

    The video of a Pennsylvania woman falling into a mall fountain while texting and walking got millions of views on YouTube earlier this month. Luckily, she did not get hurt, but the accident illustrates a recent study on the effects of the dual-task.
    According to two Stony Brook University researchers, using a cell phone while walking affects working memory and executive function, which can slow gait speed and make it difficult to walk in a straight line.
    Thirty-three people in their 20s participated in an experiment conducted by Clinical Associate Professors Lisa M. Muratori and Eric M. Lamberg of the Department of Clinical Therapy in the School of Health Technology and Management.
    The participants were first asked to walk toward a target eight meters away. A week later, they were asked to either walk to that target again, walk while talking on the phone or walk while texting and with their vision limited to the phone.
    Texting turned out to be much more disruptive than talking on the phone. Gait speed went down by 33 percent for those who were texting and 16 percent for those who were talking on the phone. The participants who were texting and walking showed a “significant” 61 percent increase in lateral deviation, which caught the researchers by surprise.
    “We didn’t expect the degree of deviation to be so high,” Muratori said.
    In other words, pedestrians who engage in cell phone use walk slower, remember fewer objects around them and “are more unsafe when crossing a street,” according to the study, which was published in the online edition of Gait & Posture this month.
    Krystaline Velez, a junior majoring in health science, said she often has minor accidents while texting and walking but she has not gotten hurt yet.
    Velez even bumped into a lamppost in New York once, but that was not enough to change her behavior.
    “I know it’s not safe, but it’s a habit,” she said.
    Muratori acknowledged that it is difficult to change this behavior, but she said pedestrians should at least be more careful around cars.
    “I don’t think it’s realistic to tell people not to use their cell phones, to be honest, but maybe we shouldn’t be using it while we’re crossing the street,” she said.
    Anika James, a senior majoring in psychology and women’s studies, said she never texts while walking and gets upset when other people do it.
    “I don’t do it because I’m not a good multi-tasker,” she said. “I’ve seen people texting while crossing the street, people knocking into people … it’s very annoying.”
    The study is preliminary and it does not prove that using a cell phone while walking is unsafe, Muratori said. The experiment took place in a lab with a smooth surface and no obstacles, but it still “has implications to safety,” she said.
    “Increased longitudinal and lateral deviation can reasonably correlate to overstepping a curb or missing environmental cues,” according to the study.

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