Anxious People Lean Left, Study Finds

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Have trouble walking in a straight line? Perhaps your anxiety is leading you astray. A new study in the journal Cognition finds that leaning left as you walk is associated with increases in the brain’s inhibition system—which happens when you're apprehensive about the possibility of something bad happening. 

The researchers asked 80 right-handed students to walk across a room in a straight line while blindfolded, aiming for a marker on the floor 20 feet away. The participants completed this route 20 different times. Then the scientists compared the students’ walking trajectories with their results on a questionnaire about behavioral avoidance, assessing their anxiety levels with questions about how often they worry about making mistakes or doing things wrong. 

Those individuals whose personalities tended toward inhibition were much more likely to walk to the left while trying to go straight. The people who were the least inhibited leaned right. The researchers suggest that this is because different types of motivation are controlled in different parts of the brain. Anxious people have more activity going on on the right side of their brains and thus they veer left.

However, previous research has indicated different kinds of anxiety might be controlled by activity in different parts of the brain, so this might not be universally applicable. And as all these students were right-handed, the results might be more complicated with left-handed participants. But this is not the first study to explore how states of mind can affect a person’s trajectory. A 2011 study on soccer players found that goalies were more likely to dive right in a shootout, especially if their team was down some points. 

[h/t: The Telegraph]