Autobiographical Memories Become Less Vivid and Emotional After Eye Movements

Br J Clin Psychol. 2001 Jun;40(2):121-30. doi: 10.1348/014466501163571.


Objectives: To test (1) whether eye movements during retrieval of emotional memories are followed by less vividness and less emotionality of future recollections, (2) whether this effect, if present, is stronger than the effects of a control activity (finger tapping), (3) whether the alleged effects of tapping and eye movements are stronger than a no-movement, control condition (mere imagery), (4) whether reductions in vividness and emotionality after eye movements (and finger tapping) are specific to negative memories or also occur in the case of positive memories.

Method: Sixty healthy volunteers recalled either positive or negative memories and scored the vividness and emotionality of the recollections. Next, memories were recalled whilst the participant was performing rapid eye movements, finger tapping, or not performing a dual task. Then participants were asked to recall the event again and to rate its vividness and emotionality.

Results: Compared to finger tapping and the no-dual-task condition, recollections after eye movements made future recollections less vivid. After eye movements, but not after the other interventions, negative memories became less negative, and positive memories became less positive.

Conclusion: The findings show that eye movements not only reduce vividness and emotionality of memories during the eye moving, but also affect future recollections, during which no eye movements are made. Some theoretical explanations are discussed. As to clinical implications, it is suggested that if there is a role for eye-movement-based treatments, it is very limited.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Affect*
  • Autobiographies as Topic*
  • Eidetic Imagery
  • Eye Movements / physiology*
  • Female
  • Fingers / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory*
  • Movement / physiology