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A window on the mind?

A window on the mind?

How you blink may reflect how you think. More than a mere physiological function, blinking may serve as a sort of "mental punctuation" that indicates whether you are alert, concentrating, bored, or anxious. That's the contention of John Stern, a psychologist at Washington University in St. Louis, in a recent article published in The Sciences.

While we blink an average of 20 times per minute--15,000 times each day--four blinks per minute are sufficient to keep the eyes moist and clean. What then accounts for the other blinks? These are the ones Stern believes to be psychologically significant, since they vary according to what the blinker is doing. For example, you tend to blink less frequently when occupied with purely visual tasks, such as finding a path through a maze, when you are speaking, and when you are angry, excited, or anxious.

One finding of recent research is that blinking patterns are determined by the need to stay alert. For example, if you're driving in city traffic you will blink less often than when charging along an interstate straightaway. And blinking will cease altogether during the crucial moments of passing another vehicle.

Experiments correlating memory and blinking have found that blinking occurs when a particular sequence is absorbed; you will probably blink when you reach the end of this line, for example. In this way, the span between blinks marks the time that the brain is receiving new information; the blink signals that the brain has paused to process and memorize this data. Obviously, the link between blinking and brain activity is still a highly speculative subject--one we'll learn more about in the future. (Did you blink just now?)

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Title Annotation:blinking
Publication:The University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter
Date:Apr 1, 1989
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