Thursday, August 20, 2009

Lost people really do walk in circles

Discovery.com- msnbc.com: "If you're lost in the woods and you feel like you're walking in circles, you probably are.
Without landmarks to guide us, people really do go around and around, a new study has found.
The finding emphasizes the importance of being prepared if you're going to set off into the wilderness or even into a maze of city streets.
"Just walking in a straight line seems like such a simple and natural thing to do, but if you think about it, it's quite (a) complicated thing going on in the brain," said Jan Souman, a psychologist at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tubingen, Germany.
"After these experiments, I would never go into a big forest or desert without a compass or GPS anymore."
Souman's project started when a German popular-science television show approached his group with a viewer question: Why do people walk in circles when they're lost?
At first, Souman wasn't sure if that common sensation was actually true. When lost, he suspected, people might veer to the left or right. But he didn't expect them to actually walk in true circles.
Trying to walk straight
To find out, he instructed nine people to walk as straight as possible in one direction for several hours.
Six walkers forged through a flat, forested region of Germany. Three trekked through the Sahara desert in southern Tunisia. (A sandstorm stopped further testing in the desert). All walkers wore GPS receivers so that the researchers could analyze their routes.
The results, published today in the journal Current Biology, showed that no matter how hard people tried to walk in a straight line, they often ended up going in circles without ever realizing that they were crossing their own paths."

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