Shifty Eyes Could Signal Memories That People Can't Consciously Recall: Study Finds Movements Linked to Activity in Hippocampus

By Saey, Tina Hesman | Science News, October 10, 2009 | Go to article overview

Shifty Eyes Could Signal Memories That People Can't Consciously Recall: Study Finds Movements Linked to Activity in Hippocampus


Saey, Tina Hesman, Science News


Eyewitness testimony is notoriously flaky, but new research suggests that eye movements can accurately reveal what a person remembers, even if the person isn't aware of the memory.

In a memory test, participants' eye movements picked the right answer even when the participant failed to, Deborah Hannula and Charan Ranganath, both of the University of California, Davis, report in the Sept. 10 Neuron. The eye movements corresponded to activity in the hippocarnpus, a learning and memory center in the brain, suggesting that eye movements can reveal unconscious memories activated in the hippocampus.

Hannula and Ranganath used functional MRI to track the brain activity of volunteers while the participants viewed pictures of faces paired with outdoor scenes. After presenting about 50 such pairs, the researchers showed a landscape picture followed by three faces. Participants were then asked to choose which face had previously been matched with the landscape scene.

When a landscape was shown, activity in the hippocampus increased, followed 500 to 750 milliseconds later by eye movements directed toward one of the three faces. The eyes lingered on the correct face when the hippocampus was more active. Less activity occurred when eyes dwelled on an incorrect face. …

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