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Updated: August 21, 2009 17:09 IST

People do walk in circles, say scientists

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Without a line of sight, people tend to walk in circles, research indicates. Photo: K.R. Deepak
The Hindu
Without a line of sight, people tend to walk in circles, research indicates. Photo: K.R. Deepak

Ever found yourself walking in circles? Well, scientists have revealed why people struggle to walk in a straight line.

Researchers in Europe have discovered that when people are lost they return to the place they started when they lost their bearings -- in fact, when deprived of a compass or some reference points they find it impossible to walk in a straight line, The Daily Telegraph reported.

Lead researcher Dr Jan Souman of the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Germany said: "The stories about people who end up walking in circles when lost are true.

"People cannot walk in a straight line if they do not have absolute references, such as a tower or a mountain in the distance or the sun or moon, and often end up walking in circles."

For the study, the researchers carried out two experiments. In the first one, they left six volunteers in a forest in Germany and asked them to keep going in the same direction.

On cloudy days -- with no sun to guide them -- the volunteers ended up walking in circles without realising it. In the second experiment, volunteers were left in the Sahara for several hours with water and food. Again, they were able to keep to a straight path only when the sun was visible. As soon as it went behind clouds, they wandered aimlessly.

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