Most folks know the basics of why we blink: It cleans and moisturizes the eyes while protecting them from irritants. Everyone blinks. And then there’s the forced one-eyed blink, the wink, that’s used as a form of body language to say, “hey there, good lookin’.” Unless used by a non-threatening grandparent, the age of the wink as a come-on has definitely, well, come and gone.
At first blush, blinking may not be the most riveting topic, but there are a few things that you probably don’t know about the rapid closing and opening of the eyelid. Below are six facts, myths and blinking-related oddities that were interesting enough to keep our eyes open.
1. Women (supposedly) rule when it comes to blinking: Although the “women blink more” rumor is difficult to back with scientific fact, it’s popularly believed that female blinkers are more prolific than their male counterparts, blinking twice as much. Numbers vary as to exactly how many times a person blinks in a minute, but the average number is thought to be 15 or once every four seconds, although this can increase when one is anxious, apprehensive or tired. In addition to the rumored double blink-age, Men’s Heath reports that women taking birth control pills blink 32 percent more frequently than women who aren’t on the pill.
2. Blinking inspired the creation of auto parts: The inventor of the intermittent windshield wiper, Robert Kearns, came up with the game-changing idea after a wedding night mishap — a champagne cork flew straight into his left eye, leaving him with irregular blinking patterns. Kearns later went blind and suffered from a mental breakdown after years in court spent battling Ford and other automakers, accusing them of pilfering his revolutionary design. He was portrayed by Greg Kinnear in the 2008 film “Flash of Genius.”
3. Babies are infrequent blinkers: The jury is still out on exactly why human babies blink far less frequently than adults, usually just twice or less over the course of a minute. Additionally, a study found that children blink more frequently as they grow older, not reaching full “blink maturity” until the age of 14 or 15. One theory about why babies blink less is that they sleep so much and thus don’t need to lubricate their eyes as frequently as adults do. Another theory claims that infants, when awake, are busy working their eyes (but not their eyelids) overtime to soak in visual information.
4. George W. Bush, and Air Force pilots flying over “friendly territory” = frequent blinkers: In addition to babies, the blink patterns of adults in a variety of circumstances have been widely studied. Generally, when we take in important information, we blink less. When not taking in as much information or when under duress, we blink more. Air Force pilots flying simulators over “friendly territory” blink more than when flying over “enemy territory” because there’s less crucial information to take in. The late Dr. John Stern, a blink research pioneer and professor emeritus of psychology at Washington University in St. Louis, noted that during the first presidential debate between George W. Bush and John Kerry in 2004, Bush blinked rapidly, especially when under attack from his opponent. Kerry, who did not blink rapidly at any point, won the debate, although the rapid blinker went on to take the White House.
5. All creatures great and small blink — except for fish, snakes and other animals without eyelids. Then there are some special creatures — perhaps most famously hamsters — that wink, blinking only one eye at a time. In 1927, W.P. Blount published the definitive guide to blinking in the animal kingdom titled “Studies of the Movements of the Eyelids of Animals: Blinking.” Among Blount’s findings: Sudanese monkeys blink like crazy, rats blink when they sneeze and goats blink at intervals of 30 to 60 seconds.
6. Involuntary blinking devices — the new 3-D glasses? In an effort to do away with those pesky 3-D glasses donned by many moviegoers, a Brazilian production company called Jonathan Post created a blink-inducing device worn on the head that makes you look like a lunatic person. And oh yeah, the device, 3D No Glasses, allows users to experience three-dimensional visions sans disposable glasses thanks to all that crazy-looking blinking. And a second oh yeah: The much-viewed video of 3D No Glasses being demoed by a hirsute Frenchman named Francois is one elaborate, well-executed joke.