London: Wandering eyes are seen as a sign of disinterest or that the person is lying, but a new study has suggested that the involuntary movement occurs when people try and access their long-term memory.

Psychology professor Howard Ehrlichman of Queens College, at City University of New York, who has been studying eye movement since the 1970s, said that while there is no way to categorically prove his theory, interviews on television repeatedly confirm his theory.

"I am convinced it is universal," a daily quoted the professor as saying in a recent article in the publication Current Directions in Psychological Science.

Saccades, known more commonly as rapid eye movements, are caused when a person is thinking hard, according to Ehrlichman.

He said these fast eyelid twitches disengage a person's focus of vision, so that it often moves down and away from the questioner.

This new theory breaks with traditional explanations for darting eyes. Historically looking in another person's eyes has been important for determining friend from foe or gauging what others are thinking.

Ehrlichman gives no credence to this theory, saying he has found little evidence to support the idea. He believes the intermittent eye movements have evolutionary roots with the prime instincts of animals, including humans being to continually survey the surrounding landscape for food or danger and when they find what they are looking for they focus on it.

Ehrlichman said that although the eyes are not required to survey our internal memory, they operate in the same way they would in the physical environment by 'going along for the ride'.

Ehrlichman and his team proved the saccades are unrelated to actual vision by testing people's memories alone in dark rooms.

"We see this effect even if they have closed eyes and they have nothing to disengage from. The pattern is the same as when people are sitting with their eyes open," he said.

Ehrlichma noted that if the answer to a question is simple people could provide it without having to disengage their visual focus.


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