Blinking is something you may do unconsciously, but it is actually very important to maintain healthy eyes. Our bodies are so determined to keep blinking that staring competitions are often played instead of using a coin-toss, and the winner is the person that can go the longest without blinking. You’ve probably done this… it’s not easy!
You’ll be surprised to hear, however, that blinking does more than just lubricate your eyes. Let’s take a look at some exciting research that shows us the amazing effect that blinking has on our brain.
It’s Time To Blink!
Research conducted several years ago by Osaka University scientists shattered the previously held belief that blinking was random in frequency. Their research showed that people actually blink in patterns, primarily when their attention on one thing is no longer necessary. Granted, even when we’re focusing on something, we do blink a few times, but if you look at our total number of blinks per minute (15 – 20 times), you’ll see that we blink a lot more than is necessary for the health of our eyes.
The pattern that the researchers noticed was that people blinked when there were breaks in clips that they were watching or if the scene didn’t feature the main character (in this study, the people were watching clips from Mr. Bean). Other instances when a person is likely to blink is during pauses in speech (whether you’re the speaker or the audience) or at the end of sentences (you’ve probably been following this pattern while reading this very article).
The Effect It Has On Our Brain
The Osaka University researchers were fascinated by these findings, so they went back to work a few years ago to expand on what they had found. Oddly enough, they used Mr. Bean clips again (the researchers will have to be contacted directly to know the reason behind their apparent obsession with Mr. Bean).
The second time around, they hooked up the volunteers to an fMRI machine (functional magnetic resonance imaging) to determine the areas of their brains that were activated when they blinked. They determined that the area of the brain that is activated upon blinking is the default mode network, which is responsible for a person’s daydreams (essentially, it puts the mind into a state of “wakeful rest”). Therefore, blinking momentarily cuts off our attention (as evidenced by the deactivation when we blink of the dorsal attention network, which is responsible for maintaining attention) and gives our minds a much-needed break.
These studies have shown that blinking plays a much more important role than was previously thought. It not only protects our eyes from damage and drying out, but also gives our brains some relief when our attention spans are put to the test.