March 2, 2020
Some people take a new relationship step-by-step. Others jump right in. However, research recently conducted at Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan, suggests that, when you meet a stranger, taking a short walk together may increase your odds of hitting it off, according to a report by Psychology Today.
The study (Cheng et al., 2020) found that walking together side-by-side for less than ten minutes with someone you’ve never met before will help the two of you to “warm up” to one another—regardless of whether you amble in silence or converse.
Indeed, Psychology Today noted, even when no conversation was taking place, the researchers found that paired strangers with a favorable first impression of one another are more likely to synchronize their footsteps.
“Our analysis revealed a unidirectional relationship between synchrony and impression rating: A better first impression led to higher walking synchrony between two strangers walking side by side in silence,” the authors said of their findings.
“There is a growing awareness of the validity of interpersonal interaction research in real-world scenarios, but daily natural environments are rich in their contextual information, making experiment control a challenge,” first author Miao Cheng said in a news release.
For this study, participants who had never met before were paired together and instructed to walk side-by-side along a quiet path. While walking, a motion sensor disguised as a GPS device tracked the synchrony of each pairs’ footsteps.
The researchers also duped participants into thinking the study had nothing to do with how first impressions affect nonverbal communication (i.e., synchronous walking) so that participants wouldn’t be conscious of whether or not they were synchronizing their steps.
The distance of the out-and-back walk was just under a quarter-mile; it took about six-to-nine minutes to complete the round trip at a casual walking pace.
This paired walking experiment was conducted under three different conditions: 1) walking out to the turnaround point in silence, but conversing on the way back; 2) a silent walking condition in which participants were instructed not to speak for the entirety of their out-and-back walk; 3) a non-walking environment where participants sat quietly in a classroom with other study participants and filled out a questionnaire.
At the halfway turnaround point during each walk, the paired respondents were asked to rate first impressions of their walking partner using the interpersonal judgment scale (IJS). This scale was also used to rate first impressions after the walk was completed.
In general, people tended to have a better first impression of someone after walking together, regardless of whether or not they conversed. “This suggests that walking side by side, even without verbal communication, is sufficient to alter the social relation between two strangers,” the authors said.
What’s more, The researchers found that having a conversation while walking side-by-side enhanced positive first impressions, Psychology Today reported. And, as mentioned, paired walkers with better first impressions of one another at the outset of the experiment had a higher rate of footstep synchronization from the get-go.
“It is very surprising for us to discover that a person’s traits and our first impressions are reflected in the subtle action of walking. I think most people are not even aware that their steps are synchronized with other people as they walk,” senior author Chia-huei Tseng said in a news release. “It was previously known that a person’s physical parameters such as height and weight, affect how their movements interact with others. Now we know psychological traits also have an effect.”
These findings were published on February 21 in the journal PLOS ONE.
Research contact: @PsychToday