Visual scanning behavior during distracted walking in healthy young adults.
BACKGROUND: An epidemic of pedestrian accidents when walking while texting suggests that people are less aware of their surroundings during distracted walking, and highlights the importance of visual scanning for pedestrian safety. Quantitative examination of visual scanning during distracted walking is still lacking. RESEARCH QUESTION: Is visual scanning behavior altered by distracted walking in healthy young adults? METHODS: We compared visual scanning behavior in 20 young adults during usual (single-task) walking, walking while performing a letter-fluency task, and walking while texting. Visual scanning behavior was measured by fixation count and dwell time percentage in specific areas of interest. Dual-task effects on gait speed, letter fluency, texting speed and accuracy, and situational awareness were also examined. RESULT: Visual scanning behavior differed between the three walking conditions. During dual-task letter fluency, participants had significantly more non-walking path fixations than either of the other two conditions (i.e., more frequent, broader visual scanning). Conversely, during dual-task texting, gaze was focused predominantly on the phone, with little visual scanning of the walking path and surrounding environment. When walking without texting or talking, gaze was directed equally to far walking path and surrounding environment. SIGNIFICANCE: Texting while walking is associated with a considerable reduction in overt visual attention to the walking path and surrounding areas. Whether this translates to reduced conscious awareness of environmental stimuli remains unclear. Performing a verbal task while walking was associated with more frequent, wider visual scanning behavior, which may be specific to the nature of the verbal task in this study.
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