What is the difference between someone who speed walks and someone who strolls? Aside from the time it takes to reach their destination, research shows there might be differences in their personalities, too.
A 2017 study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science examined data from more than 15,000 adults ages 25–100 and found the fastest walkers rated higher on personality traits such as extroversion, conscientiousness and openness; slower walkers scored higher in neuroticism and lower in conscientiousness, leading the researchers to conclude that how fast an adult walks can be correlated in part to their personality.
The study was not the first to examine connections between gait and personality.
In 2016, the Journal of Nonverbal Behavior published research exploring the connection between gait and aggressiveness and found that those with “exaggerated” walking styles — often referred to as swagger — tended to be more aggressive. In a press release, researcher Liam Satchell said, “People are generally aware that there is a relationship between swagger and psychology. Our research provides empirical evidence to confirm that personality is indeed manifest in the way we walk.”
THE RISK OF PROFILING
While there are potential practical applications for the research, relying on walking speed or style for clues about someone’s personality may lead to inaccurate judgments, according to Dr. Anthony Atkinson, an associate professor of psychology at Durham University in England.
Atkinson and his colleagues looked at how others perceived the personality traits of walkers based on their gait. Their research, published in the journal Cognition in 2012, found walkers with an “expansive, loose” gait were perceived as more adventurous, extroverted, warm and trustworthy than those who walked with a “slow, relaxed” style; and the slow and relaxed walkers were believed to be more neurotic. (Observers were shown motion-capture videos to ensure walkers were judged only on their gait, not other aspects of their appearance).
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When the walkers were asked to rate their own personalities, their self-ratings differed from the ratings of viewers. “The gait-based personality ratings of others did not correspond with the self-ratings of personality,” explains Atkinson.
Although some studies have shown links between personality and gait, there are risks associated with using the research as a tool to evaluate temperament. For starters, human movements are complex and difficult to measure, which means personality traits reflected in gait might not be detected by study protocols. There is also a bigger issue with judging others based on an abstract measurement such as gait.
“These judgments are not often accurate [and] could have important implications for how we judge and treat others,” Atkinson says.