Research suggests it is possible to predict what people are thinking by tracking their gaze
A flickering glance left or right, up or down can indicate in what processes are going on in the mind. In the study, carried out by the University of Melbourne, volunteers were asked to think of a series of numbers between one and 30 and call them out at random.
The scientists mapped out their eye movements and said they were able to predict what number each person would utter with “reliable confidence”.
The findings suggest that the art of “mind reading” could be founded upon the study of unconscious facial expressions. They could also offer a useful insight for negotiators trying to second guess their counterparts.
Dr Michael Nicholls, a neuroscientist and co-author of the study, said: “Clearly, the eyes not only allow us to see the world around us but they also present a window to the working of our mind.”
The findings, published in the journal Current Biology, were based on the testing of 12 right-handed men who were placed in a darkened room.
Each individual were asked to list every number between one and 40 in as random a fashion as possible.
Each eye was mapped in detail and each tiny movement recorded and measured.
If the eye moved a fraction to the left and slightly down, the next number they picked was likely to be smaller, whereas if it moved to the right and up, the number would be higher.
The scientists were able to make their predictions correctly 60 per cent of the time , according to the research.
Dr Tobias Loetscher, fellow author of the study, said people imagined numbers in a sequential line.
“When we think of numbers we automatically code them in space, with smaller number falling to the left, and larger numbers to the right,” he said.
“That is, we think of them along a left-to-right oriented mental number line – often without even noticing this number-space association ourselves.”
The report concluded: “Apart from supporting the old wisdom that it is often the eyes that betray the mind, the findings highlight the intricate links between supposedly abstract thought processes, the body’s actions and the world around us.
“Our study is also noteworthy because it demonstrates that simply thinking of random numbers is accompanied by systematic changes in eye position.”
Lateral eye movements have previously been linked to mental arithmetic and recalling past memories.
Professor Richard Wiseman, psychiatrist at the University of Hertfordshire, said the brain ultimately controlled both movement and thought.
“The question is what comes first, the movement or the thought. This would suggest it is the movement than precedes the thought. It is an interesting issue.”
Prof Wiseman said the study was reminiscent of work done by American psychiatrist Edmund Jacobson in the 1950s where participants were asked to think of the Eiffel Tower and their eyes rose up.
“The brain is hearing a request before it tells you that you have heard that request and so that is why there is an action.”