Trips down memory lane are more detailed when you close your eyes, found a new study published in Legal and Criminal Psychology. Or, you know, if you’re an eyewitness to a crime.
Researchers from the University of Surrey recruited 178 participants to take part in two experiments. The first experiment involved watching a film depicting a thieving electrician. Afterwards, participants were assigned to one of four conditions, with eyes opened or closed, and asked questions about the film, such as “What was written on the front of the van?”
In the second experiment, participants (still in their respective conditions) watched a film of a burglary. Only instead of recalling visuals, participants were asked to recall what they heard. They were then asked back a week later to recall the details all over again. And while researchers didn’t find eye-closure had a significant effect on recall immediately following the experiment, it did during follow-up. Almost 40 percent of details, including ones not previously mentioned, were easier to recall if participants had their eyes closed versus opened.
“The findings extend previous research in showing that the eye-closure instruction can still be effective when witnesses are interviewed repeatedly, and that it can facilitate the elicitation of new information,” the researchers explained.
There is a second element to all this, and it has to do with the person asking you to recall the details of those memories. In addition to closing their eyes, participants who built a rapport with their researcher experienced improved memory recall, too.
“It is clear from our research that closing the eyes and building rapport help with witness recall,” Dr. Robert Nash, lead study author, said in a press release. “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. That in itself is vital if we are to encourage witnesses to use this helpful technique during interviews.”
The added benefits of a good rapport with a researcher or interviewer include comfort. Nash added participants who did not build a rapoort were uncomfortable when they closed their eyes following questions.
Source: Vredeveldt A, Baddeley A.D., Hitch G.J. The effectiveness of eye-closure in repeated interviews. Legal and Criminological Psychology, 2014.