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For other uses, see Blink (disambiguation).
Example of a blinking human eye (slow-motion)

Blinking is semi-autonomica rapid opening of the eyelid. It is an essential function of the eye that helps spread tears across and remove irritants from the surface of the cornea and conjunctiva. Blink speed can be affected by elements such as fatigue, eye injury, medication, and disease. The blinking rate is determined by the "blinking center", but it can also be affected by external stimulus. When an animal (usually human) chooses to blink only one eye as a signal to another in a social setting (a form of body language), it is known as winking. Some animals (for example, tortoises and hamsters) blink their eyes independently of each other.

Function and anatomy of blinking[edit]

Birds, reptiles and sharks blink with a nictitating membrane from one side of the eye to the other.

Blinking provides moisture to the eye by irrigation using tears and a lubricant the eyes secrete. The eyelid provides suction across the eye from the tear duct to the entire eyeball to keep it from drying out.

Blinking also protects the eye from irritants. Eyelashes are hairs attached to the upper and lower eyelids that create a line of defense against dust and other elements to the eye. The eyelashes catch most of these irritants before they reach the eyeball.

There are multiple muscles that control reflexes of blinking. The main muscles, in the upper eyelid, that control the opening and closing are the orbicularis oculi and levator palpebrae superioris muscle. The orbicularis oculi closes the eye, while the contraction of the levator palpebrae muscle opens the eye. The Müller’s muscle, or the superior tarsal muscle, in the upper eyelid and the inferior palpebral muscle in the lower 3 eyelid are responsible for widening the eyes. These muscles are not only imperative in blinking, but they are also important in many other functions such as squinting and winking. The inferior palpebral muscle is coordinated with the inferior rectus to pull down the lower lid when one looks down. Also, when the eyes move, there is often a blink; the blink is thought to help the eye shift its target point[citation needed].

Central nervous system control[edit]

Though one may think that the stimulus triggering blinking is dry or irritated eyes, it is most likely that it is controlled by a "blinking center" of the globus pallidus of the lenticular nucleus—a body of nerve cells between the base and outer surface of the brain. Nevertheless, external stimuli can contribute. The normal length of a blink is 300-400 milliseconds.[1][2] Closures in excess of 1000 ms were defined as microsleeps.[3]

Greater activation of dopaminergic pathways dopamine production in the striatum is associated with a higher rate of spontaneous eye blinking.[4][5] Conditions in which there is reduced dopamine availability such as Parkinson's disease have reduced eye blink rate,[6] while conditions in which it is raised such as schizophrenia have an increased rate.[7]

Blinking in everyday life[edit]


Infants do not blink at the same rate of adults; in fact infants only blink at an average rate of one or two times in a minute. The reason for this difference is unknown, but it is suggested that infants do not require the same amount of eye lubrication that adults do because their eyelid opening is smaller in relation to adults. Additionally, infants do not produce tears during their first month of life. Infants also get a significant amount more sleep than adults do and, as discussed earlier, fatigued eyes blink more. However, throughout childhood the blink rate increases, and by adolescence, it is usually equivalent to adults. [8]


It is a myth that women blink nearly twice as much as men.[9] Average male and female blink rates are almost identical, although women using oral contraceptives blink 32% more often for unknown reasons.[10] Generally, between each blink is an interval of 2–10 seconds; actual rates vary by individual averaging around 10 blinks per minute in a laboratory setting. However, when the eyes are focused on an object for an extended period of time, such as when reading, the rate of blinking decreases to about 3 to 4 times per minute. This is the major reason that eyes dry out and become fatigued when reading.

Eye blinking can be a criterion for diagnosing medical conditions. For example, excessive blinking may help to indicate the onset of Tourette syndrome, strokes or disorders of the nervous system. A reduced rate of blinking is associated with Parkinson's disease. Parkinson's patients have a distinct stare that is very recognizable.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ McWilliams. "Re: How fast does an eye blink?". University of Missouri- St. Louis. MadSci Network. Retrieved 2013-04-28. 
  2. ^ "Blink and you really do 'miss it'". University of Nice, Sophia Antipolis Language Lab. Retrieved 2013-04-28. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ Taylor, JR; Elsworth, JD; Lawrence, MS; Sladek Jr, JR; Roth, RH; Redmond Jr, DE (1999). "Spontaneous blink rates correlate with dopamine levels in the caudate nucleus of MPTP-treated monkeys". Experimental neurology 158 (1): 214–20. doi:10.1006/exnr.1999.7093. PMID 10448434. 
  5. ^ Colzato, LS; Van Den Wildenberg, WP; Van Wouwe, NC; Pannebakker, MM; Hommel, B (2009). "Dopamine and inhibitory action control: evidence from spontaneous eye blink rates". Experimental brain research. Experimentelle Hirnforschung. Experimentation cerebrale 196 (3): 467–74. doi:10.1007/s00221-009-1862-x. PMC 2700244. PMID 19484465. 
  6. ^ Deuschl, G; Goddemeier, C (1998). "Spontaneous and reflex activity of facial muscles in dystonia, Parkinson's disease, and in normal subjects". Journal of neurology, neurosurgery, and psychiatry 64 (3): 320–4. doi:10.1136/jnnp.64.3.320. PMC 2169979. PMID 9527141. 
  7. ^ Freed, WJ; Kleinman, JE; Karson, CN; Potkin, SG; Murphy, DL; Wyatt, RJ (1980). "Eye-blink rates and platelet monoamine oxidase activity in chronic schizophrenic patients". Biological Psychiatry 15 (2): 329–32. PMID 7417620. 
  8. ^ Why do babies blink less often than adults?
  9. ^ M.J. Doughty, 2002, Optom Vis Sci
  10. ^ Yolton, D. P.; Yolton, R. L.; López, R.; Bogner, B.; Stevens, R.; Rao, D. (1994). "The effects of gender and birth control pill use on spontaneous blink rates". Journal of the American Optometric Association 65 (11): 763–770. PMID 7822673.  edit