Closing Your Eyes Boosts Memory

The simple act of closing your eyes can boost your memory. Can't remember where you left your car keys? Close your eyes a moment, and try again.

As studies show (see below), shutting your eyes actually does improve your ability to recall visual and auditory information.

You may have heard that closing your eyes can help you remember. Or you may have seen someone doing it, or even tried it yourself.

People seem to close their eyes naturally and automatically when remembering. Perhaps because it really works!

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The "close your eyes" memory technique is part of our culture. It pops up in stories and books and movies and TV shows.

I recently came across it in Stephen King's The Gunslinger (part of his epic Dark Tower series of novels).

In one scene, the boy Jake has been transported to another dimension. As days pass by in his new reality, he begins to forget his former life.

The gunslinger asks Jake to describe what the other world was like. Jake, struggling to recall, closes his eyes to help him picture his past life more clearly:

"I walked to school," the boy repeated doggedly. "And I had a" - his eyes tilted closed and his lips moved gropingly - "a brown... book.. bag."

By shutting his eyes while remembering, Jake is better able to retrieve a nearly lost memory.

Closing your eyes might not bring back every detail every time, but it is a simple and free trick. So why not try it?

Evidence That Closing Your Eyes Boosts Memory

closing your eyes boosts memory Close Your Eyes to Remember Better

Scientists at the University of Surrey in England set out to test the effectiveness of eye closure on a person's ability to remember details of an event they had witnessed.1

The researchers suspected this could have practical use for police departments. Witnesses might be able to provide more accurate descriptions if they closed their eyes as they recalled seeing a crime happen.

Here's how it went. A group of study participants viewed two brief films showing fictional crimes.

One film was of a burglary. The other was of someone being attacked.

Afterward the participants were asked to recall various details from the films. Which items were stolen, the company name on the burglar's van, and so on.

Half the group was asked to remember with their eyes open. The other half closed their eyes while trying to recall.

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The result? Those who had their eyes open remembered 48% of the details. They remembered half of what they saw. Not too bad.

In comparison, those who closed their eyes recalled a whopping 71%. Almost three-fourths of the details.

As lead researcher Dr. Robert Nash observed, shutting their eyes appears to "help people visualize the details of the event they are trying to remember," and they could better "focus on audio information, too."

How Does Shutting Your Eyes Boosts Memory?

Closing your eyes appears boosts memory recall in two ways:2

  1. It blocks out distractions. Closing your eyes shuts out visual interference around you. This is known as the "modality-specific interference" hypothesis.

    In other words, what you see happening around you right now can distract you from accessing a memory.

    Shutting your eyes blocks out those distractions. That way you can focus on the memory.

  2. It frees up mental resources. This is known as the "cognitive load" hypothesis.

    It takes brain power to see and understand what is happening around you. Blocking this input by closing your eyes means more brain resources are available for memory retrieval.

    In a similar way, it may also be wise to go somewhere quiet when trying to recall. A silent environment could open up even more mental resources.

    In other words, in a quiet room there is less auditory (sound) input your brain must process at the same time as remembering.

So here's the bottom line:

If you are struggling to recall something:

First go to a quiet place and close your eyes. Then try to remember.

If you've misplaced your car keys, or you are trying to remember the face or name of someone you met the other day...

...or the name of a restaurant where you ate last month, or your social security number...

...or really anything at all that you think you should know...

...find a quiet place and shut your eyes as you try to recall the information.

This easy trick just might help you retrieve that memory!

Published: 04/10/2020
Last Updated: 06/11/2020

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