May 30, 2024

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Why do we blink so much?  (And maybe too little?)

Why do we blink so much? (And maybe too little?)

We don't just blink to keep our eyes moist, according to research from Harvard University University of Rochester. We also close our eyes to see better.

We blink a lot. So much so that our eyes are closed 3 to 8 percent of the time. This is very strange. Every time we close our eyes, we cannot see anything for a short time. You would expect that we would prefer to do this as little as possible. However, we blink too much just to keep our eyes moist. Researchers in University of Rochester I decided to find out why.

They did this using equipment used to measure eye movements, as well as computer modeling and spectroscopy. It turns out that closing your eyes gives a kind of signal that helps us paint the bigger picture. Blinking is therefore more than just a moment when we see nothing or a break for the brain: it helps us get a good picture of the world around us, even when we see nothing for a while.

Brightness and contrast
This is because the rapid closing and opening of the eyes changes the way light reaches our eyes. This temporarily improves the brightness and contrast of visual information. This makes it easier for our brains to perceive details, especially in large, slowly changing images. Contrary to popular belief, the rapid movement of our eyelids actually improves vision rather than hindering it. “These results challenge our traditional view of visual perception,” concludes Professor Michele Rucci, who led the study. “It shows that blinking plays an active role in how we see the world around us.”

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Fast update
Research also suggests that blinking also helps our brains process visual information better. When we blink, we give our brain a kind of quick refresh with “fresh” visual information. Meanwhile, the brain gets a short break to process that information. This allows us to better focus on the important things in what we see. This works best for things that are not very detailed.

However, sometimes we blink a little. We naturally blink a lot, but in the modern world with our screens and digital devices, we do it less often than we should. This can cause tired or dry eyes and blurred vision. So it's probably not a bad idea to consciously blink every now and then, especially when you're looking at screens for a long time. Apart from that, it is always a good idea to take regular breaks to rest your eyes.

Your eyes change their position after you blink
When you blink, your eyeballs rotate to a slightly different position, which is a deliberate error. The misalignment forces the brain to activate and refocus the eye muscles. “Our eye muscles are very slow and inaccurate,” lead author Gerrit Moss told Scientias.nl. “The brain is constantly sending signals to make sure the eyes are looking in the right direction. Our research shows that the brain measures the difference before and after blinking and then passes the correct corrections on to the eye muscles.