Bilateral saccadic eye movements and tactile stimulation, but not auditory stimulation, enhance memory retrieval

Sander Nieuwenhuis*, Bernet M. Elzinga, Priscilla H. Ras, Floris Berends, Peter Duijs, Zoe Samara, Heleen A. Slagter

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Recent research has shown superior memory retrieval when participants make a series of horizontal saccadic eye movements between the memory encoding phase and the retrieval phase compared to participants who do not move their eyes or move their eyes vertically. It has been hypothesized that the rapidly alternating activation of the two hemispheres that is associated with the series of left-right eye movements is critical in causing the enhanced retrieval. This hypothesis predicts a beneficial effect on retrieval of alternating left-right stimulation not only of the visuomotor system, but also of the somatosensory system, both of which have a strict contralateral organization. In contrast, this hypothesis does not predict an effect, or a weaker effect, on retrieval of alternating left-right stimulation of the auditory system, which has a much less lateralized organization. Consistent with these predictions, we replicated the horizontal saccade-induced retrieval enhancement (Experiment 1) and showed that a similar retrieval enhancement occurs after alternating left-right tactile stimulation (Experiment 2). Furthermore, retrieval was not enhanced after alternating left-right auditory stimulation compared to simultaneous bilateral auditory stimulation (Experiment 3). We discuss the possibility that alternating bilateral activation of the left and right hemispheres exerts its effects on memory by increasing the functional connectivity between the two hemispheres. We also discuss the findings in the context of clinical practice, in which bilateral eye movements (EMDR) and auditory stimulation are used in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)52-56
Number of pages5
JournalBrain and Cognition
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Bilateral
  • EMDR
  • Eye movements
  • Memory
  • Saccades
  • Stimulation


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