The Science of Clumsiness: Can You Be Born a Klutz?


Clumsy folk rejoice: It’s not really your fault you’re a klutz, it’s just the way you’re programmed. And while that may not exactly sound like a positive thing, the good news is that, with a scientific understanding of why you’re uncoordinated, you can reprogram yourself to have Spider-Man-like reflexes.

First, the science: A study out of the University of Delaware found that athletes who had clumsiness-related injuries (injuries due to landing off-balance during a run or jump, rather than, say, being tackled by an opponent) had other characteristics that the not-so-clumsy athletes lacked. Bad performance on both visual and verbal memory tests was common, as was poor equilibrium, slow reaction time and slow processing speed, a.k.a. how quickly the brain understands new information and responds to it.

While we might expect a klutz to be unbalanced or have less-than-adequate reflexes (thus, the poor equilibrium and the slow reaction time), the study also shows a correlation between being clumsy and the speed at which your brain can absorb and retain information. Poor memory, for instance, has been known to have something to do with clumsiness for a while now: A 1994 study found that clumsy children forgot patterns they had been shown after just 15 seconds, while non-clumsy kids didn’t. This explains why a true klutz will trip over stairs they’ve walked up a million times.

The reason people with a slower processing speed are more likely to be clumsy, however, has more to do with how well they can block out distractions from the outside world. A person who can competently walk and talk at the same time is less likely to trip on a crack in the sidewalk, for example, than someone who can’t focus on walking because they’re too busy trying to hear what the person next to them is saying.

Now, if you are a klutz, you’re probably thinking, ‘Are you telling me that I’m clumsy because I’m a space cadet?’ In short…yes. But you can change that! Psychologists recommend being more mindful, which essentially means doing every little thing purposefully and with your full attention. Despite sounding like something out of a self-help book from the 70s, this really can train your brain to work more efficiently. Additionally, reducing stress (by any means possible) can remove distractions from your life, allowing you to focus more on not dropping everything.

So go forth, soon-to-be agile people, and show the world that you’re capable of not missing your mouth while eating.