Some people close their eyes, as though lost in thought, when they’re trying to remember some detail from the past. A new study in Legal and Criminal Psychology suggests that they’re on the right track — study participants who closed their eyes remembered more details from films the researchers showed them than those who did not.
The study’s press release explains how the research team, led by Robert Nash of the University of Surrey, set up their experiments:
178 participants took part across two studies. In the first experiment, participants watched a film depicting an electrician entering a property, carrying out jobs and stealing items. Each participant was then randomly assigned one of four conditions, either eyes closed or open, and having built up a rapport with the interviewer or not. They were then asked a series of questions about the film, such as ‘what was written on the front of the van?’ The team found that closing their eyes led participants to answer 23 per cent more of the questions correctly. Building rapport also increased the number of correct answers, however, closing their eyes was effective regardless of whether rapport had been built or not.
Both these results also held in a follow-up experiment involving the recall of both visual and audio details from video of a crime reenactment. It’s not the first study to show that eye-closing works as a memory-enhancing tool, but why? In their paper, the researchers explain there are two theories:
In the context of eyewitness memory, the cognitive load hypothesis proposes that by reducing environmental interference, eyeclosure frees up witnesses’ cognitive resources to invest in recollecting past events. In contrast, the modality-specific interference hypothesis proposes that by reducing visual interference specifically, eyeclosure improves witnesses’ ability to mentally visualize past events.
So closing our eyes reduces distractions, basically. It’s a pretty simple trick, and it seems to work.