It’s almost instinctual that when we try really hard to remember a place, person or event we shut our eyes. Now scientists believe the act helps us to recall such memories much more accurately. Researchers at the University of Surrey tested participants ability to remember details of films showing fake crime scenes.
More than a hundred participants took part in two separate experiments.
The first experiment asked volunteers to watch a film that showed an electrician carrying out works and then stealing a number of items from that property.
The participants were then questioned in four different groups. The first responded to questions about what they saw while they had their eyes open, the second with their eyes shut. The third group was asked the series of questions after having built a rapport, while the fourth group received no friendly introduction from the interviewer.
The study found that those who had built a rapport with their interviewers and shut their eyes while responding to questions answered three-quarters correctly.
Comparatively, those who did not have a friendly introduction with their interviewers and had their eyes open during questioning were less than 50 per cent accurate.
While eye-closing had the greatest impact on recalling events, feeling comfortable during questioning also helped accuracy.
The second experiment focused around what the participants recalled hearing during the mock crime scene. Again the study, published in the journal Legal and Criminological Psychology, showed closing their eyes and having a sense of rapport with the interviewee helped people recall details more accurately.
“Our data and other data before us points towards eye closure helping because it removes distraction,” Lead researcher Dr Robert Nash said.
“Closing your eyes might also help people visualise the details of the event they are trying to remember, but our second experiment suggests keeping your eyes shut can help focus on audio information too.
“The mechanisms we identified ought to apply to other contexts, for example trying to remember details of a lecture.”