Closing your eyes can improve memory

If you’re struggling to remember something, especially a stressful event, you’ll probably have more success if you’re not visually stimulated. That’s according to new research from the University of Surrey which found that people who witnessed crimes were able to remember the incidents more accurately and in more detail when they closed their eyes.

Dr Robert Nash and his colleagues recruited 178 people to participate in two studies. In the first, they saw a video of an electrician going to a house to make some repairs and stealing items. Participants were then randomly assigned to keep their eyes open or closed as they answered researchers’ questions about details of the scene, such as the lettering on the electrician’s van. People who answered while their eyes were closed were 23% more likely to be correct.

In the second experiment, the participants watched a Crimewatch reconstruction of a burglary where an elderly man was attacked, and were then asked questions about what they heard as well as what they saw. The group who closed their eyes again had better results, including of audio details.

Another factor that boosted memory prowess was empathy. (Are you listening, the police?) In each experiment, the researchers built a rapport with half the group, which apparently made them feel more comfortable about closing their eyes. But while this helped recall for people who closed their eyes, there was no difference for those who kept them open.

‘Although closing your eyes to remember seems to work whether or not rapport has been built beforehand, our results show that building rapport makes witnesses more at ease with closing their eyes,’ Said Dr Nash. ‘That in itself is vital if we are to encourage witnesses to use this helpful technique during interviews.’

Image via Deeped Niclas and Amanda Strandh’s Flickr.

Diane Shipley