SHIFTY eyes have been thought to be a sign of disinterest or that a person is lying, but new evidence suggests 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, made the claims in a recent article in the publication Current Directions in Psychological Science.

The professor, who has been studying eye movement since the 1970s, says that while there is no way to categorically prove his theory, interviews on television repeatedly confirm his theory. ‘I am convinced it is universal,’ said the professor in the article.

Ehrlichman says saccades, known more commonly as rapid eye movements, are caused when a person is thinking hard.

He said these fast eyelid twitches disengage a person’s focus of vision, so that it often moves down and away from the questioner. The 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. Alternatively it has said that the direction of eye movement is related to the hemisphere of the brain being accessed and of course wandering eyes are seen as a sign that someone who is lying.

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 says 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’.                       –MOL