Have we turned into cognitive “heel strikers”?

It’s finally spring in Blacksburg, so that means that after months of neglecting my Vibram Five Fingers “frog shoes” as my friend calls them, it’s time to bust them out again for some minimalist running.  You might have seen folks wear them around campus or heard about the Barefoot Running movement popularized by Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run.

Basically, McDougall was a recreational runner who would quite often be injured training for small distances and wondered how, with our fancy shoes designed to prevent injury, we seem to suffer from running injuries at a greater rate than the Tarahumara Indians who run 100+ miles in sandals. While there is still some heated debate about this topic, the idea is that humans evolved to run long distances and by creating these comfortable, cushioned shoes, we’ve actually put ourselves at greater risk. If you run without shoes, you’ll notice that you’ll automatically hit with a mid-foot or fore-foot strike (landing with a heel strike is incredibly uncomfortable, so you naturally shorten your stride and let your arch do the work it was “designed” to do. With the advent of shoe technology, we can comfortably hit with our heels first, which, according to the barefoot movement, causes a jolt through our joints and puts us at risk for injury. They also argue that the arch support we obtain from the shoes weakens our arch muscles (now they don’t have to do the work) and thus puts us at even more risk.

Is there an analogy with our mind? If shoes with arch support weaken the arch due to lack of use, does my GPS weaken my spatial relations ability? Does having every phone number in my address book weaken my ability to use my working memory and store/retrieve things from my long term memory? Are we going through our cognitive world with a heel strike?

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