Experience, Intensified: Listening with Closed Eyes

Though closing one’s eyes is sometimes promoted as a quick way to soothe fear and anxiety in stressful situations, doing so may prompt the brain to engage in a higher degree of activity, resulting in more intense experiences. With an itch to identify the ways in which the brain handles a loss of visual input in the presence of frightening stimuli, and a curiosity about how such responses may serve a useful purpose for mental and medical health, a researcher at Tel Aviv University’s Functional Brain Center has recently published a study using what may seem like an unlikely research tool: spooky Alfred Hitchcock-esque music.

The study worked with fifteen participants, all of which were reported as being healthy, who were exposed to a series of neutral noises along with a sequence of scary music (ostensibly the stuff of haunted Halloween houses). Participants listened to the sounds both with their eyes open and closed, and researchers examined their brain activity during the process with functional magnetic resonance imaging equipment. Participant-provided feedback was also collected, and exhibited a match with the data collected from the brain scans: the mind was alive with more intense activity when the scary music was heard with participants’ eyes shut.

Highlighting the idea that small alternations in behavior can have a profound impact on experience, the study may prove helpful for those interested in developing more effective protocols for learning and working, and may also have implications for the treatment of neurological disorders, including dementia, Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, and other mental health issues. With continuing research in how seemingly insignificant aspects of behavior can influence the mind, new breakthroughs in many fields may make their way to the headlines.

© Copyright 2009 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Sarah

    Sarah

    October 5th, 2009 at 9:12 AM

    When your eyes are closed you are forced to pay more attention rather than just relying on your sense of sight to do the job for you. Think about how in tune blind people are to all of their other senses out of necessity. They have a heightened awareness of things going on around them because they have come to use all of their senses instead of using them selectively. What a lesson we can all learn from this.

  • Strauss

    Strauss

    October 5th, 2009 at 10:09 AM

    I have done this many a times – closing my eyes when I need to concentrate on something hard…like trying to recall something… Maybe it does really have an impact in our mind and hopefully help science to innovate new ways of fighting disorders.

  • Lacey

    Lacey

    October 5th, 2009 at 1:23 PM

    That’s interesting. I often close my eyes when I’m listening to music to relax. Denying yourself visual stimuli definitely focuses your attention on what you hear.

  • Cassie V.

    Cassie V.

    October 5th, 2009 at 2:06 PM

    I hate scary movies! I don’t know if it’s worse seeing what’s going on or sitting with my eyes shut imagining it. The music does intensify your emotions. My heart starts pounding as soon as the creepy music starts.

  • Thrope

    Thrope

    October 5th, 2009 at 3:12 PM

    I have to agree that concentration level increases with closed eyes… that is exactly why many people close their eyes while trying to memorize or recall something. Such acts must be identified and popularized to help people in having better concentration levels.

  • Chapell

    Chapell

    October 6th, 2009 at 10:53 AM

    Its good to know that what many of us have practiced for so long has actually been proved to be right scientifically… many of us close our eyes for the strongest of emotions and other things… people close their eyes when kissing, while trying to concentrate and recall stuff among other things.

  • Carol

    Carol

    October 7th, 2009 at 6:46 AM

    Closing your eyes forces you to be more waare of what is actually there, instead of letting you see what you want to see. For lack of a better way of saying this, it is like it allows you to see things more clearly.

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