Teach-in 2000 : Psychological Influences on Gait
by Chris Kirtley, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Muscular movements in general are originated by feelings in general          Herbert Spencer, Dancer & Musician, 1895

Animation by Polygon
This is me walking in two different moods - one happy, the other sad. Can you tell which is which? What are the differences between the two gaits that enable you to decide? Here's the biomechanical analysis to help you...

The motor manifestation of emotion is a topic which has interested several researchers (see bibliography). Charles Darwin's famous book, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals was perhaps the first systematic study. Later, the famous ballet choreographer, Rudolf Laban, devised a system of notation (Labanotation - still used in dance today) in which he tried to represent not only the basic mechanics of a movement, but also what he called the effort-shape. By this he meant the "style" or psychological purpose behind the movement.

Effort-shape Labanotation

Using three of these dimensions, Laban defined 8 types of effort-shape, with the fourth, Control, making it either controlled (bound) or fluent. Each dimension can also be stressed, giving rise to further subtlety:
Exertion Space Time Effort-shape (and with exertion, space or time stressed)
Light Direct Sustained Gliding  (smoothing, smearing, smudging)
Quick Dabbing  (patting, tapping, shaking)
Flexible Sustained Floating (strewing, stirring, stroking)
Quick Flicking  (flipping, flapping, jerking)
Strong Direct Sustained Pressing  (crushing, cutting, squeezing)
Quick Punching  (thrusting, poking, pressing)
Flexible Sustained Wringing  (pulling, plucking, stretching)
Quick Slashing  (beating, throwing, whipping)

These principles were used during the 2nd World War in the Laban-Lawrence Industrial Rhythm, which was applied to selection, training, and investigation of work processes in order to maximise efficiency in British factories. Some attempt was even made to experimentally validate them against EMG (Bernstein, 1972), and its an interesting exercise to try to assign a kinematic or kinetic variable to each dimension: e.g. Time is clearly related to velocity; Space to displacement; Exertion to force.

The relationship of these quantities to emotion was noticed by Laban, and later applied to child development (Kestenberg, 1967), and dance therapy for psychiatric disorders (Bernstein, 1984). If you try performing them, you will probably notice that you feel a different emotion with each effort-shape, and of course this the very basis of dance as a communicative art-form. Indeed, a person's gait tells us something about their character and mood (Cutting, 1978).


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