The effects of eye movement on the stream of consciousness


A recent meta-analysis of PTSD treatments (van Etten & Taylor, 1998) found EMDR to be as efficacious as behavioral and drug treatments. There is considerable controversy, but little research, on the underlying mechanisms of EMDR. A conditioning model by Dyck (1993) suggests that eye movements (EM) effect a distraction from trauma related thoughts, causing an extinction trial. According to this model, the distraction of EM should cause thoughts to be directed outward. A psychodynamic model by Allen and Lewis (1996) suggests that EM facilitate the formation of new associations to traumatic memories and allow the client to “remain in the present while thinking of the past.” This model postulates that EM cause thoughts to be directed inward. We report two experiments in which thought processes were studied using a stream of consciousness (SOC) technique (Singer, 1993). In both studies, undergraduate participants wrote down a sad (or happy) target event from their life. They then thought about the target event and let their thoughts go where they may for 10 minutes. At approximately 1-minute intervals they were asked to report their thoughts. The baseline study (n = 42) looked at SOC with eyes closed; the second study (n = 27) compared SOC with eyes open, eyes closed, and with EM. Relative the to the eyes-open condition, EM tended to keep the SOC internally focused. During the last 4 minutes of the SOC, eyes open participants were externally focused (thoughts about the surroundings) about 50% of time; EM participants were externally focused 25% of the time; and eyes closed participants were externally focused 3% of the time, F(1, 11) = 6.08, p = .017. Eye movements produced a blend of external (eyes open) and internal (eyes closed) thoughts, offering support to the psychodynamic model.






Lee Becker
Debby Black-Tanski
Nicole Nugent
Linda Thede

Original Work Citation

Becker, L., Black-Tanski, D., Nugent, N., & Thede, L. (1999, November). The effects of eye movement on the stream of consciousness. Poster presented at the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies 15th Annual Meeting, Miami, FL



“The effects of eye movement on the stream of consciousness,” Francine Shapiro Library, accessed December 1, 2020,

Output Formats