Memory recall 'better when eyes shut'

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Recalling facts is easier with your eyes closedImage source, Thinkstock

Closing your eyes when trying to recall events increases the chances of accuracy, researchers at the University of Surrey suggest.

Scientists tested people's ability to remember details of films showing fake crime scenes.

They hope the studies will help witnesses recall details more accurately when questioned by police.

They say establishing a rapport with the person asking the questions can also help boost memory.

Removing distraction

Writing in the journal Legal and Criminological Psychology, scientists tested 178 participants in two separate experiments.

In the first, they asked volunteers to watch a film showing an electrician entering a property, carrying out work and then stealing a number of items.

Volunteers were then questioned in one of four groups. People were either asked questions with their eyes open or closed, and after a sense of rapport had been built with the interviewer or no attempt had been made to create a friendly introduction.

People who had some rapport with their interviewer and had their eyes shut throughout questioning answered three-quarters of the 17 questions correctly.

But those who did not have a friendly introduction with the interviewer and had their eyes open answered 41% correctly.

The analysis showed that eye closing had the strongest impact on remembering details correctly ,but that feeling comfortable during the interview also helped.

In the second experiment, people were asked to remember details of what they had heard during a mock crime scene.

Sound recall

Again closing their eyes and having a sense of rapport with the interviewer helped people recall more details than participants in all other groups.

Lead researcher Dr Robert Nash, said: "Our data and other data before us points towards eye closure helping because it removes distraction.

"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."

Prof Tim Hollins, of Plymouth University, provided an independent comment: "This adds to the growing body of research that eye closure might be a useful technique that police may want to use.

"The other nice thing about this piece of work is that they have looked at rapport building too.

"This data shows the benefit of eye closure and rapport building added together rather than cancelled each other out as some people previously feared."

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