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Health, Science, The Mind

Shock! The way you Walk reveals Your IQ!

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for ResearchBlogging.org“Just walk naturally!”

Walking Shadow

Walking: It's harder than you think

Easier said than done I thought.

When you have a TV camera, film director, sound engineer, camera man’s assistant and crowd of inquisitive onlookers ogling at you – it’s never going to be easy.

A couple of weeks ago I did some TV presenting (it’s not as grand as it sounds) and on the final day of shooting, we needed to shoot some ‘fillers’. I was required to sit drinking pretend cups of coffee, thoughtfully gaze into the distance and then ‘naturally’ walk between locations – It’s not all glamour, you know. So if you’ve ever had someone glare at you when you’re walking then you’ll appreciate how difficult walking normally can sometimes be.

Which is odd considering how fundamental walking is the human species: We’ve ‘learnt’ how to do it by one year and are programmed to do it without thinking from then on. What is perhaps even more surprising is that recent research shows your walk reveals more about than you thought possible – and may even show how clever you really are!

I wonder what John Wayne would make of all of this…

The Un-politically-correct Walking IQ Test

thoughtful Tookta

Thinking can be tough...

Testing brain power by gait has its footing in controversy. Back in 1943, a US Army ‘researcher’ S Roy Heath Jr invented a test to screen out ‘mentally retarded’ recruits. Candidates were forced to walk along a one inch wide rail and their performance was recorded. He boasted the ‘Rail Walking Test’ was a trustworthy way to ‘diagnose awkwardness’ and ‘predict trainability’.

Despite being unreservedly pejorative, the essence of Heath’s original conclusions seem to hold some water today: Walking is neither as easy nor as automatic as are led to believe.

Test Your Brainpower: Take the Walking-Talking Intelligence Test!

So you think you’re pretty smart, huh? I bet you think walking is easy? Let’s put those assumptions to the test: Haul yourself away from the computer for a couple of minutes and try this simple little test. We’ll see just how clever you really are…

1) Start by walking up and down a room (have someone watch you or video you if you like)

2) Now stop and try doing some mental arithmetic (try your seven times table, listing prime numbers or working out the square root of 53) – saying your answers out loud.

3) Now the tricky bit: Try to walk up and down the room as you did before whilst doing some that maths at the same time…

How did you do?

iq 37

No, I don't like IQ tests either.

You (and your helpful assistant) will have spotted:

  • Your walking speed slows down or becomes less co-ordinated
  • Your can’t do the sums as quickly

Did you find it difficult? I know I did.

It might be time to reconsider renewing that Mensa membership.

Can Walking speed really measure intelligence?

Like it or not, we all get old eventually. In recent years experts have been studying the effects of old age has on brain function and walking speed. Even after accounting for any physical disabities, it has become increasingly evident that as our grey matter wears out, so does our ability to walk well. One team from the National Institute of Ageing in Maryland went to the lengths of putting an elderly group through an obstacle course to prove this point. They found a close correlation between intelligence (or ‘cognitive functioning’) and ability to walk well.

Afghan Soldiers Train On Heavy Weapons

So you join the Army, son? Best make sure you can walk properly.

So What?

Taking their lead, some commentators are suggesting that GPs should do a simple walking-talking test (like the one you did above) to screen for the early signs of dementia. It’s called a ‘Dual Tasking‘ test which demonstrates the intellectual costs of doing two things at once. Which could make for a rather unsettling prospect – the doctor trying to work out your IQ before you’ve even sat in the chair (just make sure you haven’t had a drink first).

These findings have been disputed but if the stats continue to look convincing we could be in for a future far more unsettling than Heath’s ‘Rail Walking’ solution. With the arrival of gait recognition CCTV cameras that automatically identify a person from their walk (watch the video below), the same technology has the potential to gauge a person’s intellectual abilities from a distance.

So just remember, don’t walk too slow…

Thanks for reading – your comments and feedback are warmly welcomed!



More reading on Walking: (no really, it is fascinating)

Why walk on two legs? It’s a lot more efficient way of moving. Which is also why walking to lose weight is so difficult.

A fascinating story of the challenges of walking in a visually impaired child (RNIB)

Find out more wonders about bipedalism (Wikipedia)

Heard the one about how people who live in bigger cities walk faster? It’s probably not true.


Yogev-Seligmann, G., Hausdorff, J., & Giladi, N. (2008). The role of executive function and attention in gait Movement Disorders, 23 (3), 329-342 DOI: 10.1002/mds.21720

Heath, S. (1943). The military use of the rail-walking test as an index of locomotor coordination. Psychological Bulletin, 40 (4), 282-284 DOI: 10.1037/h0061269

Ble, A., Volpato, S., Zuliani, G., Guralnik, J., Bandinelli, S., Lauretani, F., Bartali, B., Maraldi, C., Fellin, R., & Ferrucci, L. (2005). Executive Function Correlates with Walking Speed in Older Persons: The InCHIANTI Study Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 53 (3), 410-415 DOI: 10.1111/j.1532-5415.2005.53157.x

van Iersel, M. (2006). Frail elderly patients with dementia go too fast Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, 77 (7), 874-876 DOI: 10.1136/jnnp.2005.084418

About Stuart Farrimond

I love writing about science and health subjects. Strange, because I also teach the same things. I trained as a medical doctor before turning my hand to other things. Shortlisted for The Guardian/Observer for Science Writer of the Year 2011 and editor for Guru Magazine I also like to grow large pumpkins...


2 thoughts on “Shock! The way you Walk reveals Your IQ!

  1. I have to have a discectomy in January after the results of a scan. Speaking to the specialists before the scan however, he examined me and in my notes he said I had an intelligent gait.
    Now I know he wasn’t testing my IQ, ( because not once did he ever mention the seven times table.) nor was he testing for dementia, nor was he testing for dementia, he could have been testing me for dementia but I don’t think he was. Could you please explain what is meant by it? I do know what intelligent and gait mean…….just don’t know what they mean together.

    Posted by Paul Rogers | December 3, 2012, 1:14 pm


  1. Pingback: ResearchBlogging.org News » Blog Archive » Editor’s Selections: Tattoos, Smart Steps, and MyPlate - June 15, 2011

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