Thursday, October 25, 2012

No Wonder We Get Lost

You often hear of folks getting lost, walking in circles, even when they were not too far from where they wanted to go.  MythBusters did a program on this and it was fascinating.  They put themselves in a wide open field, put a blindfold on them and all they had to do was walk to the top of the field.  Turns out they not only couldn't do it, they didn't even get close, they just kept walking in tighter and tighter circles.
Research at the Max Planck Institute explains why.

Wide-open spaces
We walk in circles when we traverse terrain devoid of landmarks, such as the desert. Even though we'd swear we're walking in a straight line, we actually curve around in loops as tight as 66 feet in diameter. German research from the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics reveals why: With every step a walker takes, a small deviation arises in the brain's balance (vestibular) or body awareness (proprioceptive) systems. These deviations accumulate to send that individual veering around in ever-tighter circles. But they don't occur when we can recalibrate our sense of direction using a nearby building or mountain, for instance.

I've got to be honest, that even with landmarks some folks have trouble walking in a straight line, maybe they just don't recognize the landmark.  I know that I have a much better since of direction than Mac and our daughter says she has no sense of direction at all.


  1. I have read that this happens when people get lost in the woods. You think that you can find your way out, but you end up walking in circles. Best to hug a tree until help arrives. (Or in Georgia, you can just listen for the sound of traffic and go towards the sound, that worked for my brother once.)

  2. Funny, I have a much better sense of direction than Mr. M. I thought it was supposed to be the other way around!

    I shall avoid the desert after reading this post. :)


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