Blinking Interesting Article

Posted: Wednesday 16th January 2019

Humans blink about 13,500 times a day and this is a vital function to keep the outer surface of your eye healthy. A bit like breathing, we don’t usually notice ourselves blinking unless we stop and think about it – it is an unconscious act. However the pattern and rate of blinks varies with different tasks. For example, it has been shown that blink rate drops with screen use, and studies have shown that blinks often occur during natural pauses in conversation. New research has shown that not only does blinking have a function in lubricating the eye, it may also be part of our body language - researchers have now found that along with other body movements, blinking acts as conversational feedback.

The researchers used a virtual reality experiment, designing an avatar that ‘listened’ to the human volunteers. The researchers modified the avatar’s non-verbal blink responses to see the effect that it had on conversations with the volunteers, using questions such as ‘how was your weekend?’

It was found that when they looked at the length of blinks and the responses, longer blinks elicited shorter answers from the volunteers. The difference in length of blinks was only milliseconds, so the volunteers could not pick out which were short blinks and which were long blinks, so this variation in answer length was totally subconscious.

The results of this research indicate that subtle non-verbal information impacts on face to face communication and reinforces the idea that conversation requires contributions from the speaker and the listener. Co-ordination of everyday human interaction is a complex activity and this research from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics suggests that humans unknowingly perceive eye blinks as nonverbal cues when engaging in conversation. The discovery may also add to how we understand the origins of our signalling of our mental state which has evolved to be an important factor in everyday social interactions, blinking amazing!

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