The sensory feedback mechanisms enabling couples to walk synchronously: An initial investigation

Ari Z. Zivotofsky, Jeffrey M. Hausdorff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The inattentive eye often will not notice it, but synchronization among human walking partners is quite common. In this first investigation of this phenomenon, we studied its frequency and the mechanisms that contribute to this form of "entrainment." Specifically, by modifying the available communication links between two walking partners, we isolated the feedback mechanisms that enable couples to synchronize their stepping pattern when they walk side-by-side. Although subjects were unaware of the research aims and were not specifically asked to walk in synchrony, we observed synchronized walking in almost 50% of the walking trials, among couples who do not usually walk together. The strongest in-phase synchrony occurred in the presence of tactile feedback (i.e., handholding), perhaps because of lower and upper extremity coupling driven in part by arm swing. Interestingly, however, even in the absence of visual or auditory communication, couples also frequently walked in synchrony while 180 degrees out-of-phase, likely using different feedback mechanisms. These findings may partially explain how patients with certain gait disorders and disturbed rhythm enhance their gait when they walk with a partner and suggest alternative interventions that might improve the stepping pattern. Further, this preliminary investigation highlights the relatively ubiquitous nature of an interesting phenomenon that has not previously been studied and suggests that further work is needed to better understand the mechanisms that entrain the gait of two walking partners and allows couples to walk in synchrony with minimal or no conscious effort.

Original languageEnglish
Article number28
JournalJournal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation
StatePublished - 2007


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