Researchers from the University of Surrey, Britain, have found evidence to suggest that eyewitnesses to crimes remember more accurate details when they close their eyes. After studying 178 participants across two studies, the team also discovered that building a rapport also helped witnesses to remember more. “It is clear from our research that closing the eyes and building rapport help with witness recall,” said lead author Robert Nash from University of Surrey.
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 asked a series of questions. The team found that closing their eyes led participants to answer 23 percent more of the questions correctly. Building rapport also increased the number of correct answers. However, closing their eyes was effective regardless of whether rapport was 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. 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. In 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. “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,” Nash concluded.