by Rahul Jayaram '21
If given the task of memorizing a speech word for word, most people would approach the task by continuously repeating the series of words in the speech until they can recite the piece in its entirety. Your brain does a similar task when visual memory comes into play. However, instead of days, such processing takes place in milliseconds, allowing for quick recall. Researchers at the Baycrest Center for Geriatric care have confirmed this key role of eye movements in visual memory in their study involving an image memory task. They determined that when people try to remember an image in their head, their eyes move in a manner similar to when they first viewed the object.
In their study, 16 young adults between ages of 20 and 28 were shown a series of 14 images and asked to recall the images by memory. After being shown the images, the participants were shown a blank screen and asked to recall the images . Eye Tracking technology determined that when the subjects remembered the images, their eyes moved in a “compressed pattern” of when they initially saw the image they were aiming to recall.
The team interpreted their results to suggest that the eye movements exhibited this compressed movement because it acts like a “shorthand code” to help trigger memory recall. Since memories tend to be shorter than the actual event, short and simple movements are enough to elicit the memory. The study also demonstrated that the older the participants were, the more they exhibited eye movements during memory recall . That is, younger participants only relied on eye movements during difficult memory tasks, such as remembering a complex image, whereas older adults began showing eye movements during the recall of simple images. Yet, both younger and older adults performed similarly in the task of recollection, likely due to the fact that while certain cerebral areas naturally deteriorate over time, older participants may have used this eye-movement “rehearsal” to recruit other regions of the brain to assist in memory recollection .
"It's as if older adults are using their eyes to create a 'motor trace' to compensate for memory declines during aging," says Jordana Wynn, lead author on the study. In other words, the eyes take over the job of the dysfunctional brain matter previously used in memory recollection. 
Such results are groundbreaking, as they are the first to demonstrate that the brain utilizes other motor processes, in this case eye movements, to intervene when the task become too difficult. The implications of this discovery paves route to new areas of research involving those affected by neurodegenerative diseases. We may be able to use the understanding of how eye movements compensate declining brain regions as a method of revamping memory in those affected by Alzheimer's disease or other age-related causes . In addition, this research could set the precedent for understanding what other body functions we can tap into to improve cerebral functioning.
 Wynn JS, Olsen RK, Binns MA, Buchsbaum BR, Ryan JD. Fixation reinstatement supports visuospatial memory in older adults. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance. 2018
 Memory overload? That's when the eyes step in [Internet]. ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily; 2018 [cited 2018Mar20]. Available from: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/03/180301103606.htm