Eye closure enhances dark night perceptions

Sci Rep. 2015 May 27;5:10515. doi: 10.1038/srep10515.


We often close our eyes when we explore objects with our fingers to reduce the dominance of the visual system over our other senses. Here we show that eye closure, even in complete darkness, results in improved somatosensory perception due to a switch from visual predominance towards a somatosensory processing mode. Using a tactile discrimination task and functional neuroimaging (fMRI) data were acquired from healthy subjects with their eyes opened and closed in two environments: under ambient light and in complete darkness. Under both conditions the perception threshold decreased when subjects closed their eyes, and their fingers became more sensitive. In complete darkness, eye closure significantly increased occipital blood-oxygen-level-dependent (BOLD) activity in the somatosensory and secondary visual processing areas. This change in brain activity was associated with enhanced coupling between the sensory thalamus and somatosensory cortex; connectivity between the visual and somatosensory areas decreased. The present study demonstrates that eye closure improves somatosensory perception not merely due to the lack of visual signals; instead, the act of closing the eyes itself alters the processing mode in the brain: with eye closure the brain switches from thalamo-cortical networks with visual dominance to a non-visually dominated processing mode.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Darkness
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Female
  • Fingers / physiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Ocular Physiological Phenomena*
  • Radiography
  • Sensory Thresholds / physiology*
  • Somatosensory Cortex / physiology
  • Visual Perception / physiology
  • Young Adult