looking at pictures of urban scenes while you walk slows you down by about 1 meter per minute relative to rural scenes. but a blank scene speeds you up three times as much  

original article: Burtan et al., 2021 (Royal Society Open Science), reported in: The Daily Mail by Victoria Allen on 6th January 2021 image source

this story was in episode 1 #city #urban #rural #distraction #walking

the error bar says

in a long room with a large video screen at one end, 20 adults were asked to walk over a 10 metre course while looking at a picture. they did this 105 times - once each for 100 scenes - 50 urban and 50 rural - as well as 5 times with a blank grey scene.

the researchers recorded the positions of various parts of the volunteers' bodies - ankles, knees, and hips, and measured walking speed, step length, step time and leg swing time.

they found that when watching the urban scenes, people walked slowest - at 2.88 miles per hour while rural scenes were walked towards at 2.91 mph. the results are interpreted in terms of the visual 'stress' or 'distraction' of looking at urban landscapes.

do urban landscapes slow you down?

while the slowest walking was indeed produced by the urban scenes, this was only very slightly slower than the rural scenes - by 0.03 miles per hour, or a difference of only 60 metres after walking for a whole hour.

is this a big difference? not really. is it a statistically reliable difference? yes - the data and the analysis were powerful enough to find statistical differences, but these differences were not as strong as the control study reported in the supplementary materials, in which the volunteers walked along while doing some cognitively demanding stuff.

most importantly, while the differences between urban and rural scenes were rather small, the differences between either of those conditions and a blank grey scene were much larger. walking towards neutral grey images was 0.1 mph faster than towards a rural scene - that's 150 meters extra per hour.


watching cityscapes may slow you down a bit, but watching a blank screen really puts a spring in your step


The Daily Mail: fair - scientific story mostly intact