Eye movements boost our memory

Researchers from Lund University in Sweden have shown for the first time that our eye movements actively help us remember events. Where we focus our gaze can actively affect how successful we are in retrieving the right memory.


The unique study used eye tracking technology to record three different scenarios. The research subjects were initially asked to look at 24 cartoon figures on a screen. After the figures were removed, they remained seated in front of a blank screen, and were asked to remember as much as possible about the figures. For example, was Santa Claus looking to the left or the right?

In the first scenario, the participants were free to choose which part of the screen to look at. The experiment demonstrated that they usually looked at the corner of the screen where Santa had appeared. However, when their gaze was guided to the opposite corner of the screen in the second scenario, their memory recollection was significantly poorer.

The participants performed the best in the third scenario, when their gaze was actively guided to the “correct” corner of the blank screen - where Santa had appeared.

“Our eye movements help us select the correct memory images and also to suppress competing, incorrect memory images”, said researcher in cognitive science Roger Johansson.

It is already established that the more the context surrounding an event can be reconstructed, the easier it is to remember. If all the information is available, we have no difficulty remembering. The more clues that are removed, the harder it becomes. Memory researchers have long discussed which exact clues are important, and the latest findings from Lund University therefore form an important piece of the puzzle.

“The results are important for models of memory retrieval”, said Professor of Psychology Mikael Johansson. “Episodic memory allows us to travel back in time and relive previous events from a first person perspective. We have now shown that our eyes offer an effective clue – a key to our personal history.”

In the long run, the research could contribute to the development of memory improvement techniques and could potentially help elderly people or others with memory impairment.

Look Here, Eye Movements Play a Functional Role in Memory Retrieval, Psychological Science

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