Keeping eyes closed helps eyewitnesses boost memory recall

In a new study, published today in the British Psychological Society journal Legal and Criminology Psychology, researchers from the University of Surrey found further evidence to suggest that eyewitnesses to crimes remember more accurate details when they close their eyes.

The team also discovered that building a rapport with witnesses also helped them to remember more.

178 participants took part across two studies. In the first experiment, participants watched a film depicting an electrician entering a property, carrying out jobs and stealing items. Each participant was then randomly assigned one of four conditions, either eyes closed or open, and having built up a rapport with the interviewer or not. They were then asked a series of questions about the film, such as ‘what was written on the front of the van?’ The team found that closing their eyes led participants to answer 23 per cent more of the questions correctly. Building rapport also increased the number of correct answers, however, closing their eyes was effective regardless of whether rapport had been built or not.

The second experiment took the memory task one step further, by asking witnesses about things they had heard, as well as things they had seen. This time, participants watched a clip from Crimewatch, showing a reconstruction of a burglary where an elderly man was attacked in his home. Results showed that closing their eyes helped participants recall both audio and visual details, both when they had built rapport and when they had not.

Across both experiments, participants who did not build rapport said they felt less comfortable when they closed their eyes, compared to when they kept their eyes open. In contrast, participants who built rapport felt more comfortable when they closed their eyes.

“It is clear from our research that closing the eyes and building rapport help with witness recall,” said lead author of the study Dr Robert Nash from the University of Surrey.

“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."

This study has been reported on BBC News online and The Guardian.

Full journal title 'Does rapport-building boost the eyewitness eyeclosure effect in closed questioning?'

The Society publishes 11 academic journal titles in conjunction with our publishing partner Wiley-Blackwell.

Legal and Criminological Psychology publishes original papers in all areas of psychology and law.

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