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What affects gait performance during walking while texting? A comparison of motor, visual and cognitive factors

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Texting on a cell phone disrupts walkers’ gait performance. The performance decrement has been attributed to┬áincreased motor demand, decreased visual information and increased cognitive load. However, relative contributions of motor, visual and cognitive factors are poorly understood. Here we quantitatively estimated the relative contributions of these factors by comparing multiple walking conditions. Thirty-two adults walked for 20 m, with or without a dual task on the phone. The dual task was either a cognitively demanding digit ordering task or a casual tapping task. Gait performance was assessed using gait speed, stride length, stride time and stride time variability. Results showed that texting negatively impacted gait performance. Importantly, we found that cognitive factor contributed the most, visual factor the least, and motor factor in between. Our findings resolve the inconsistency in the literature and unambiguously show that motor, visual and cognitive factors caused by simultaneous phone use all contribute to gait alterations.

Practitioner Summary: Walking performance is typically worsened when a concurrent phone use task such as texting is performed. We found that visual, motor and cognitive factors contributed to this performance decrement with increasing importance. Besides resolving inconsistency among previous reports, we also raised theoretical and practical concerns for phone use during walking.
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Keywords: Phone use; cognitive load; gait; motor control; visual distraction

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: School of Psychological and Cognitive Sciences, Peking University, Beijing, China; 2: Department of Psychology, Sichuan University of Science and Engineering, Zigong, Sichuan, China;

Publication date: November 2, 2018

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