First impressions are important because our appearance, speech, and behavior affect people's initial perceptions of us. When it comes to body language, our walking speed can reflect our mood, emotions, and even personality. A recent study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science found extroverts walk at a faster pace than their introvert friends.
A team of international researchers in the U.S. and France noted people who walk fast scored higher in extraversion, conscientiousness and openness, and lower in neuroticism. Conscientiousness and extraversion had a more positive influence than openness, but agreeableness did not seem to have any effect on gait. Higher levels of extraversion were linked to walking an average of 0.06 meters per second faster than those who scored higher in introversion.
"This study provides robust evidence that walking speed in adulthood reflects, in part, the individual’s personality," concluded the researchers in their paper.
Previous research has found gait can influence a stranger's perceptions about a walker's personality. For example, a 2012 study found a gait cycle, which refers to a completed step with each foot, was all a group of students needed to sense the walker's personality. Looser gaits were associated with extroversion and adventurousness, while clipped walkers were perceived as more neurotic. However, trait impressions based on movement were reliable but not valid; the impressions did not correspond to how the walkers rated themselves.
In the current study, researchers drew data from more than 15,000 adults aged 25 to 100 to see if personality traits are linked with walking style. Participants' personalities were assessed via survey and rated based on the Big Five personality traits, which include extraversion, conscientiousness, openness, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Walking speed was assessed using participants' normal gait.
Personality not only influenced walking speed, it also affected how gait changed over time. Those who scored lower on neuroticism and higher on extraversion, conscientiousness, and openness had a slower decline in walking speed compared to their counterparts. These findings coincide with older research that suggests those with higher neuroticism and lower conscientiousness have less physical activity and more sedentary behavior.
The association between walking gait and personality exists, however, it warrants further research to explain why. It's unclear whether this is based off of personality and behavior, or if there is a biological or neurological component at play. Or, perhaps this could be linked to "modeling," where we mirror the way our parents walk.
"If you're out with the family, the parents will say, 'Come on, keep up' or 'Look at this' or 'Take your time' or they'll encourage or discourage a manner of walking... It would affect your pace in life," said Patti Wood, author of Snap: Making the Most of First Impressions, The Huffington Post Canada reported.
The takeaway here is our walking style speaks volumes to others about our mood, emotions, and personality even before we introduce ourselves.
Source: Stephan Y, Sutin AR, Bovier-Lapierre G et al. Personality and Walking Speed Across Adulthood: Prospective Evidence From Five Samples. Social Psychological and Personality Science. 2017.