Eye blinking is not just for keeping your eyes moist, shows study

Credit: Unsplash+.

It turns out that blinking does more than just keep our eyes moist; it actually helps our brains process what we see.

Although it may seem like a simple act, blinking takes up between 3 to 8% of our waking hours, meaning our eyes are closed for a significant portion of our day.

Researchers have long thought that frequent blinking—more often than needed just for lubrication—was a bit of an evolutionary puzzle, especially since it blocks our vision momentarily.

However, recent findings from the University of Rochester suggest that there’s more to blinking than meets the eye.

Professor Michele Rucci and his team from the brain and cognitive sciences department have discovered that blinking plays a crucial role in how we understand visual scenes.

By tracking eye movements and using computer models and spectral analysis, which looks at different frequencies in visual stimuli, the researchers studied the effects of blinking on visual perception.

Their studies revealed that when we blink, our ability to notice large, slowly changing patterns improves.

This happens because the rapid motion of our eyelids when we blink alters the light patterns reaching our retinas, creating different visual signals for our brains than when our eyes are fully open.

Bin Yang, a graduate student and the first author of the study, explains that the information provided by these “blink transients” actually enhances our visual processing. This finding challenges the previous assumption that blinks only disrupt visual continuity.

Instead, blinks help compensate for any lost visual information by giving our brains a better grasp of the overall visual landscape.

This insight builds on Professor Rucci’s ongoing research into visual perception, which suggests that seeing involves both sensory input and physical movement, similar to other senses like smell and touch.

Previously, vision was thought to be distinct because spatial information is directly visible in the images formed on the retina.

However, this research indicates that vision might be more like other sensory experiences than we thought, relying on a combination of what we see and our physical responses to fully understand our surroundings.

The study’s findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, open up new perspectives on the fundamental nature of how we see the world around us.

It highlights the complex, interactive processes involved in vision and suggests that our everyday blinks are a part of this intricate sensory dance, helping us perceive and interpret the visual world more effectively.