Stepping Forward Together: Could Walking Facilitate Interpersonal Conflict Resolution?
Walking has myriad benefits for the mind, most of which have traditionally been explored and explained at the individual level of analysis. Much less empirical work has examined how walking with a partner might benefit social processes. One such process is conflict resolution—a field of psychology in which movement is inherent not only in recent theory and research, but also in colloquial language (e.g., “moving on”). In this article, we unify work from various fields pointing to the idea that walking together can facilitate both the intra- and interpersonal pathways to conflict resolution. Intrapersonally, walking supports various psychological mechanisms for reconciliation, including creativity, locomotion motivation, and embodied notions of forward progress. Both alone and in combination with its effects on mood and stress, walking can encourage individual mindsets conducive to resolving conflict (e.g., divergent thinking). Interpersonally, walking can allow partners to reap the cognitive, affective, and behavioral advantages of synchronous movement, such as increased positive rapport, empathy, and prosociality. Walking partners naturally adopt cooperative (as opposed to competitive) postural stances, experience shared attention, and can benefit from discussions in novel environments. Overall, despite its prevalence in conflict resolution theory, little is known about how movement influences conflict resolution practice. Such knowledge has direct implications for a range of psychological questions and approaches within negotiation and alternative mediation techniques, clinical settings, and the study of close relationships.