Memory works best with eyes closed, study says

Researchers at the University of Surrey say empathy with an interviewer also helps to remember facts more accurately.

Closing your eyes when you think increases your chances of remembering facts accurately, according to researchers at the University of Surrey.

Scientists tested people's ability to remember details of movies that show fake crime scenes. They hope the studies will help witnesses report details more accurately when questioned by police.

Researchers say that establishing some kind of relationship with the person asking the questions can also help improve memory.

Volunteers who kept their eyes closed could remember facts more accurately

In an article in the journal "Legal and Criminological Psychology", scientists tested 178 participants in two separate experiments.

At first, they asked volunteers to watch a movie showing an electrician entering a property, doing his job, and then stealing a number of items.

The volunteers were then divided into four groups and questioned. One part was interviewed with eyes open and the other with eyes closed.

There were also two different approaches on the part of the person asking the questions: In one group, the interviewer did not attempt to empathize with the interviewee; In another group, the researcher introduced himself and tried to create a friendly relationship before starting to ask the questions.

People who had some relationship with the interviewer and kept their eyes closed throughout the interview answered three-quarters (75%) of the 17 questions correctly.

But those who were not introduced to the interviewer and had their eyes open answered only 41% correctly.

The analysis showed that closing your eyes had a greater impact on trying to remember details correctly, but feeling comfortable during the interview also helped.

In the second experiment, the researchers questioned the volunteers about a simulated crime scene.

"Our data and other data we have indicate that closing your eyes helps because it decreases distraction," said lead researcher Robert Nash.

"Closing your eyes can also help people see details of the event they are trying to remember, but our second experience suggests that keeping your eyes closed can help focus on audio information as well.

"The mechanisms we identify apply to other contexts, such as trying to remember details of a class."

"This contributes to the growing body of research indicating that eye closure may be a useful technique if used by police," said Tim Hollins of Plymouth University, who was not involved in the study.

"The other good thing about this work is that they also observed building a relationship with the interviewer as well. These data show the benefit of closing your eyes and building a relationship add up rather than canceling out, as some people thought."