Recognizing a Person by their Walk

By Daniella Dimaunahan

Shopping malls tend to get really cramped especially during weekends. When I was younger, probably 11 or 12 years old, I once got lost in a shopping mall and lost sight of my parents and my younger brother because of the large crowd that was walking in the same direction as we were. I stopped to take a look at the candy stall situated in the middle of the mall hallway and next thing I knew, my family was not beside me anymore! I looked around to see if they were somewhere near but I was not able to find them; so I just continued walking. Luckily, I was able to spot them! They were two stores away from me and were walking towards the restroom.

The way a person walks, referred to as gait, is distinct and unique to them. Familiarity with how a person walks could be most handy when you least expect it to be. Oxford Dictionaries defines gait as “a person’s manner of walking”. Some people may have a bounce in their stride, a swing in their step, or a sway in their hips and this makes it easier to recognize them over long distances. In fact, a lot of models and beauty queens have a signature walk that is characteristic to them! Have you heard about Shamcey Supsup’s “tsunami walk” or Janine Tugonon’s “cobra walk”? This suggests that motion pattern is definite for each person and that movement is a good cue that can be used to identify people. However, other cues such as familiarity, size, and shape, as well as other information not related to a person’s gait could influence our ability to recognize a person at a distance.

Gait recognition is a relatively new, developing, non-invasive biometric technology that involves identifying people based solely by the way they walk. It is a behavioral biometric that is apparent from a distance and serves a variety of functions. It is commonly used for medical diagnostics and for security purposes. For me, the principle of gait recognition is especially important and practical during adverse circumstances like getting lost in a mall, finding your parents in a grocery, or searching for your friends in the school cafeteria. According to Amin & Hatzinakos (2012), a person’s gait is complex and may be hard to imitate because it is exemplified by a person’s skeletal structure, muscular activity, body weight, limb length, and bone structure.

In order to determine whether a person could be identified solely by their gait, Cutting and Kozlowski (1977) conducted a study that controlled different cues, leaving just movement as the only means for recognition. Point-light displays of three males and three females with normal gait, same height, and similar weight were used in the study. The six participants were living together in the university housing. During the recording session, all wore tight-fitting dark clothing with glass-bead retroreflective tape placed around their joints. The walkers were filmed and were asked to walk at a normal pace for several minutes. Two months after the recording session, the six participants returned to verify if they could recognize one another based on the point-light displays. A seventh participant, who knew the six well, also took part in the study. After the test sequence was presented to them, they were asked to write the name of the walker and indicate the certainty of their response using a five-point unipolar scale. When the participants were asked the question “how did you recognize each of the walkers?”, the viewers mentioned certain features of the display like speed, bounciness, rhythm of the walker, amount of arm swing, or length of steps. The viewers claimed to associate these characteristics to particular individuals. The proponents of this study were able to demonstrate that an array of point lights is sufficient to recognize the presence of a walker and to identify a particular walker. Indeed, this proves that a person can be recognized and identified by their gait or their manner of walking.

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Well, now I know the principle and reason why I was able to easily spot my parents and younger brother from a distance. I have now realized the usefulness and significance of a person’s gait. For those who normally go out in large groups or those who usually get left behind by their companions whenever they go out, coming from my experience, I think that it might be really helpful to take note or be familiar with the manner of walking of your peers. This enables an easier search when surrounded by a large crowd. You will be able to catch sight of your relatives in no time!

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References:

Amin, T. & Hatzinakos, D. (2012). Determinants in Human Gait Recognition. Journal of Information Security, 3, 77-85. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/jis.2012.32009

Cutting, J. & Kozlowski, L. (1977). Recognizing friends by their walk: gait perceptions without familiarity cues. Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society, 9(5), 353-356.

Gait. (n.d.). In Oxford Dictionaries. Retrieved April 17, 2016, from http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/gait

Gait Recognition. (n.d.). Retrieved April 17, 2016, from http://globalseci.com/?page_id=44

 

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