New study finds link between walk and aggression

Lead researcher Liam Satchell talks to a participant

Lead researcher Liam Satchell talks to a participant

The way people walk can give clues to how aggressive they are, a new exploratory study from the University of Portsmouth has found.

The researchers from the Department of Psychology assessed the personalities of 29 participants, before using motion capture technology to record them walking on a treadmill at their natural speed.

The study found that the exaggerated movement of both the upper and lower body indicated aggression.

Lead researcher Liam Satchell said: “When walking, the body naturally rotates a little; as an individual steps forward with their left foot, the left side of the pelvis will move forward with the leg, the left shoulder will move back and the right shoulder forward to maintain balance. An aggressive walk is one where this rotation is exaggerated.”

The researchers asked participants to complete a questionnaire, which measured their levels of aggression.

They also used a standard personality test called the ‘big five’ to assess personality traits including openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. Together they can help map the way people think, feel and behave.

Liam Satchell 036

The researchers used motion capture technology to record participants walking on a treadmill

Using motion capture technology, which records the actions of humans and uses the information to bring to life digital character models in 3D computer animation, the researchers analysed thorax and pelvis movements, as well as speed of gait.

Mr 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.

“We know of no other examples of research where gait has been shown to correlate with self-reported measures of personality and suggest that more research should be conducted between automatic movement and personality.”

Mr Satchell said identifying the potential relationship between an individual’s biological motion and their intention to engage in aggression could be used to help prevent crime.

“If CCTV observers could be trained to recognise the aggressive walk demonstrated in this research, their ability to recognise impending crimes could be improved further.”

The paper is published in Journal of Nonverbal Behavior.

3 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. “If CCTV observers could be trained to recognize the aggressive walk demonstrated in this research, their ability to recognize impending crimes could be improved further.”

    Insert “police officers” observers into “CCTV” and we have what we call stop question and frisk. Maybe we should add Gait in front of all that. It is a great research but after 30 years of law enforcement, this was always a marker especially as a kid growing up in NYC particularly Brooklyn. Add this to Law Enforcement!

    • Hi Bob,

      Thanks for your comment – we could not agree more!

      So what we’re trying to work out is how Law Enforcement and other security personnel can make their judgments of potential risks. We know that some people are good at it but not sure why. Here we’ve tried to add detail to explain the process.

      I’m all about having the applied focus; we do know that people are generally aware that there is a relationship between swagger and psychology. It’s just that our research provides empirical evidence to confirm that personality is indeed manifest in the way we walk.

      Your experience fits perfectly in with a lot of the stories we’ve heard from security personnel. We’ve just tried to explain how people can be accurate in the hope that those people who aren’t so good at this type of appraisal, could learn from them.

      Thanks for your comment! Also great to hear from people with law enforcement experience!

  2. Hi Liam

    Another Bob !

    I live in the Portsmouth area and I am trying to find out if you have or there is a term for ” Studying the way people walk” as this has always fascinated me, particularly since the now famous John Cleese walk in Monty Python. I could sit and watch people walk by for hours, as many walkers simply don’t realise their gait comes directly from the Ministry of Silly Walks – and I find some walks highly amusing, rather than aggressive, don’t you ?

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