Do lost people really go round in circles?

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gregorach

Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
Sep 15, 2005
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There's an interesting article about human navigation today on Not Exactly Rocket Science: Do lost people really go round in circles?

By dropping people into a German forest, the Sahara desert or blindfolded in a field, scientists show that people really do walk in circles when they're lost, but only if there aren't any obvious reference points.
But it turns out that they don't have any preference for one direction over the other...
 

tobes01

Full Member
May 4, 2009
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Saw it demo'd on the Woodlore Fundamental Bushcraft course recently. Four people blindfolded, all ended up walking in circles.
 

Bushwhacker

Banned
Jun 26, 2008
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Similar to being blindfolded is to be in dense undergrowth, you have no distant visual point of reference to guide you in a straight line.
That's where a compass comes in handy.
 

Shewie

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Dec 15, 2005
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I did it on a course aswell a few years ago, all part of a night navigation exercise we were doing.
I seem to remember the instructor telling us each person has their own particular bias (can't remember the exact word) and could go either left or right but always the same way each time. That's in total darkness of course, quite interesting to see it as you're convinced you're still walking in a straight line. We were only doing it over about 50m but I could imagine across big distances things could get interesting.
 

Asa Samuel

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May 6, 2009
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St Austell.
I remember it being due to having no reference points and that everyone has one leg slightly shorter than the other, although this is probably a myth!
 

Shewie

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I remember it being due to having no reference points and that everyone has one leg slightly shorter than the other, although this is probably a myth!

That's what we were told aswell, having the extra weight of a pack on emphasises the effect aswell I think.
 

gregorach

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Sep 15, 2005
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Yep, it turns out that the idea that people have a bias towards one direction or the other, for whatever reason, is false. If you look at some of the paths traced, you can see that people often veer from one direction to the other. They actually X-rayed people's legs to measure their exact length, and even provided shoes with inserts to equalise them. Made no difference.

In the study described, one of the tests was to have people walk blindfolded in a large field. After 50 minutes of walking, the average distance from the starting point was only 100 metres!
 

jojo

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Aug 16, 2006
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I don't think this is something new, I have got a book about this subject that was written donkey's years ago! I can't think of the tittle at the minute but I'll look it up later when I get back home.
 

Mastino

Settler
Mar 8, 2006
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I understod that we all have a dominant leg; exactly as with our hands we are right or left 'feeted'. This means that the dominant leg will go a little stronger or longer and thus, like rowing faster on one side, make us stray in one direction. I don't know if this is true but it sounds plausible.
 

Chinkapin

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Jan 5, 2009
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When I was a child, my mother loaded me up into the car one day, and we drove to an old abandoned apple orchard, to pick apples. We finally decided that we had enough apples and started back for the car.

We couldn't find the car and the light of day was beginning to fade. Eventually, we came to realize that we had passed a particular point once before and that we were walking in circles. Before it was over we had passed that same point three times. It took a great deal of effort and concentration to break that pattern and find our way out. We did eventually get out just before dark.

You can walk in circles even when you KNOW you are doing it and trying not to.
 

jojo

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Aug 16, 2006
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Harold Gatty, the chap who wrote the book I mentioned was a navigator. In the chapter on Walking in circles, he talks about the fact that we are all asymetrical to some degree.As he puts it
With regard to our anatomy, we are all of us unbalanced
As he sees it, there are multiple reason why we walk in circles, even when we know we are doing it. The length and strength of our "dominant" leg plays a big part. And thats not just his idea:

A professor H Lund of Bucknell University conducted some test with "3542 trials of 125 students" and determined that
the greater the difference in leg length in each individual, the greater was the degree of deflection
Also a factor, although a minor one if the fact that we have a dominant eye that does add another source of error in keeping a straight line.

Another minor source of error can be the wrong balance of a backpack, a heavy weight, or even a pick or rope held in the same hand for any length of time.

Also a person tend to edge away from what Gatty terms "irritant direction" Wind, rain, snow or dust storms can cause a man to deviate from his path". Even a strong sun to the right of his path will cause a person to ease unconsciously to the left.

A really useful book, IMO. It may not stop you doing it, but at least it helps you become more aware you are doing it!
 

BOD

Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
...In the study described, one of the tests was to have people walk blindfolded in a large field. After 50 minutes of walking, the average distance from the starting point was only 100 metres!
Can you recall the name of the study?

This is a very good reason to stay put if you are lost in dense fog or forest and not to move any more!
 

Chinkapin

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Jan 5, 2009
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I have read somewhere that even if you always sight on a distant object and walk to it, people will always pass on one side or the other (say the right side) and as a result will get farther and farther off the farther they travel. This doesn't pertain to walking in a circle but is another problem of land navigation.
 

tjwuk

Nomad
Apr 4, 2009
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Cornwall
In the research carried out it seems more like the self doubt that creeps in over the time of walking. I always thought it was due to the fact of differences in leg length etc.

The Romans had all this sussed out years before the research though, and most likely the Egyptians before them!

I guess the easiest way is not to set off alone and walk in threes. But modern methods do make us lazy.

Interesting articles:

http://scienceblogs.com/notrocketscience/2009/08/do_lost_people_really_go_round_in_circles.php

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/romans/tech_02.shtml
 

gregorach

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Sep 15, 2005
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Can you recall the name of the study?

This is a very good reason to stay put if you are lost in dense fog or forest and not to move any more!
The reference given in the article linked from the OP is: Current Biology doi:10.1016/j.cub.2009.07.053.
 

Chris G

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Mar 23, 2007
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The tracking couse I did recently (with Geoff and Rob) concurrs with Bob Carrs book on tracking in that;
1) you have a dominant leg, just as you do with hands and eyes.
2) nature makes you prefer to stand on your dominant and therefore stronger leg.
3) when walking you will naturally want to spend longer time on your stronger dominant leg and therefore you will take a shorter stride with this leg in comparison to your other leg.
4) over a distance, with all external factors being equal, you would turn slightly towards your dominant leg side.

Bob Carrs book suggests that adding a set amount of weight (I can't remember exactly but think it was about 1lb (0.4kg)) to your non-dominant side would be enough to counteract the natural tendancy to turn and bring you back on line.

When we did our SAR course we were told about this and were also told that if you were left handed you will drift right and if right handed drift left, ambidextrous go straight.

Worked every time !
I've not heard of this one before and it completely contradicts what I've said above. Are you sure that the directions are correct?

Chris