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Who, What, Why: Is there a 'hard man' walk?

Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo: 17 December 2015 Image copyright Reuters

Scientists have linked Vladimir Putin's walk to his KGB training, but another theory is that he is trying to project an image of toughness. What can you tell from the way someone walks, asks Kemi Alemoru.

Researchers were trying to explain why Putin walks with his left arm swinging while his right arm remains still.

The study in the British Medical Journal concluded the stiff arm was likely to be connected to weapons training in the KGB where trainees are taught to keep their right hand close while walking, so they can quickly access their gun. The walking style has been dubbed the "gunslinger's gait".

But what can you really tell from the way someone walks? A lot can be projected or perceived through gait - a person's manner of walking. Whether it's John Wayne, Daniel Craig or Ross Kemp, the on-screen tough guy often has a distinctive strut.

"People often think that they can tell by someone's walk whether somebody is aggressive or intends to cause harm but it isn't that straightforward," says Mark Nixon, professor in Computer Vision at Southampton University. He has studied how much computers can pick up by analysing human gait.

A lot of other factors influence us to reach conclusions about a person's character. "When you see somebody walk into a pub and you think 'I better stay away from him' that has resulted from a number of cues and prejudices not just his walk," he says.

But while you might not be able to predict someone's behaviour from their walk, you can make some conclusions.

Academics have documented how gang members sometimes adopt the same gestures and gait as each other to appear more threatening.

As far back as 1888, serving constable John Barry wrote in the Victorian Police Guide that training stressed that walking in a certain way made a constable appear disciplined and dispassionate, to project the image of authority and order.

Nixon insists that traits such as masculinity can definitely be displayed and perceived through someone's walking style, but it's more difficult to tell whether they actually have violent intent. "It is too hard to test," Nixon says.

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