Previous laboratory findings suggest deviant gait characteristics in depressed individuals (i.e., reduced walking speed and vertical up-and-down movements, larger lateral swaying movements, slumped posture). However, since most studies to date assessed gait in the laboratory, it is largely an open question whether this association also holds in more naturalistic, everyday life settings. Thus, within the current study we (1) aimed at replicating these results in an everyday life and (2) investigated whether gait characteristics could predict change in current mood.
We recruited a sample of patients (n = 35) suffering from major depressive disorder and a sample of age and gender matched non-depressed controls (n = 36). During a 2-day assessment we continuously recorded gait patterns, general movement intensity and repetitively assessed the participant’s current mood.
We replicated previous laboratory results and found that patients as compared to non-depressed controls showed reduced walking speed and reduced vertical up-and-down movements, as well as a slumped posture during everyday life episodes of walking. Moreover, independent of clinical diagnoses, higher walking speed, and more vertical up-and-down movements significantly predicted more subsequent positive mood, while changes in mood did not predict subsequent changes in gait patterns.
In sum, our results support expectations that embodiment (i.e., the relationship between bodily expression of emotion and emotion processing itself) in depression is also observable in naturalistic settings, and that depression is bodily manifested in the way people walk. The data further suggest that motor displays affect mood in everyday life.