How to Avoid Being Attacked Just By Walking Differently

bare foot steps on a beach

People size each other up, all the time.  And we’re pretty good at it.  But is there a way certain people walk that makes them more likely  to be attacked?  An article all the way from 2006 has the answer.  Pressed for time?  Skip to the action steps right above the citation.

Abstract at the bottom, closely followed by the citation and link.  If you’re in the average college, you’ll be able to download it for yourself.  Otherwise it’s behind a pay wall.  

Body language.  It says tons about you whether you know how to read the cues or not.  You’re constantly projecting signals that mean all sorts of things to all sorts of people.  Women are usually better at knowing this stuff than men for all sorts of interesting reasons but there are certain simple signals that we can adopt that make us a harder target.  Things we can do that get a potential attacker to think “I’m not going to mess with them.  I’ll try to mug/rob/hurt someone else”.

The study:

In 2004 researchers lined up college age women, filmed them a certain way (with black suits, no light, and ping pong balls attached to all their joints) so that only their motion was captured.  They then took these videos and had other college students rate each of the women on how hard it would be to attack them as a control.  Then they took a group of women and rated them before and after self defense training and then a second group of women rated before and after “walk training”.


Self defense training made  ZERO difference.  Not a lick.  But the walk training did, made a pretty large difference really.


Healthy, young and energetic individuals walk in certain ways that suggest they would put up more of a fight.  This is based on certain cues displayed during walking.  The researchers actually broke it down into 6 or 7 different cues that all played a role but the most important ones ended up being “bouncier steps”, greater arm swing and a wider stride (but not to the point that it’s awkward).

My thoughts + action steps:

I got really excited about this article because some website falsely said the study had prisoners and violent offenders to rate the difficulty of attack.  THAT would be interesting.  Other college kids–okay yea it points out an insight but it could be that dyed in the wool criminals, who know violence, have different selection criteria without even realizing it.  With this study, we just don’t know.  As always, “Nullius in verba” (see for yourself) which is why you should at least check my work and make sure I didn’t screw anything up!

action steps:

As you walk, keep your head up and look around, as always but especially when you’re tired, focus on this type of walking.  “Bouncier steps”.  That trait alone and that point of coaching was what made the biggest difference in attack rating.  And of course, be ready to fight with your own Fight Response!



Three experiments investigated whether women can change their walking style and hence reduce their vulnerability to physical attack. In Experiment 1, women were videotaped walking normally and when imagining themselves in a situation of low personal safety. Women were rated as harder to attack in the low safety condition. Differences in walking style accounted for differences in ease-of-attack ratings. Experiment 2 compared walking styles and vulnerability of women before and after completing a self-defense course. No differences were seen across sessions. Experiment 3 investigated walking styles and vulnerability of women before and after completing individualized walking training programs. Differences in vulnerability between sessions were revealed and could be accounted for by changes in walking-style features.



Kinematics and vulnerability Johnston et al. (2004). Changing kinematics as a means of reducing vulnerability to physical attack.  Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 34(3), 514-537. Retrieved from



“Enaon ni oh” (stay alive)



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