I used to work with someone who had an unusual habit. When you spoke to him he would close his eyes while listening to you. The first time he did this to me lots of thoughts raced through my mind: Is he ignoring me? Am I boring him? Is he daydreaming? Is he asleep? Most of us are used to talking to people who won’t make eye contact (that’s annoying), but when someone closes his eyes while you are speaking to him it’s really disconcerting.
It turns out he was on to something. Recent research has shown that closing your eyes immediately after learning something helps you consolidate what you have learned into long term memory. Not only does it aid short term memory but it also aids memory seven days later:
And, no matter how you have learned something (either eyes open or eyes shut), closing your eyes while attempting to retrieve the memory aids in memory retrieval:
The most likely reason for this phenomenon has to do with cognitive load theory. Cognitive load theory explains that we have limited ability to process multiple inputs in our working memory. So, closing one’s eyes helps to eliminate extraneous input and allows us to process just the memory we want to remember or recall.
So, the next time you are teaching a class and everyone has their eyes closed maybe they are really helping themselves remember what you are teaching – or maybe they are just asleep.