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Monday, October 05, 2009 - 11:18 PM

eye (Down Town Pictures/flickr)

We ask a question we thought was a no-brainer in this podcast: why do we blink?

Film editor Walter Murch tells us about a strange discovery he made years ago while working on The Conversation - could something as small as a blink actually be the trick of his trade? We also talk to Japanese researchers Tamami Nakano and Shigeru Kitazawa about the experiment they conducted to understand how we see the world, when we choose not to, and why.


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Comments [77]

Arthur B Kells from Florida

Blinking is definitely an interesting topic. Before hearing this podcast, I thought blinking was only a subconscious action to wet your eyelid. This podcast pointed out very interesting patterns involving blinking. The idea that things seen are saved or memorized when blinked is always a very interesting notion. Similar to yawning, blinking is a mysterious phenomenon that can be seen in everyone.

Mar. 23 2015 09:18 PM
Rafe Monteiro from Oviedo

I thought this podcast was really quite interesting. I couldn't keep my eyes open however, because I became self aware of my blinking! Next time that I go to a movie theater I will just end up staring at people and seeing if their blinks sync up. I don't think that we actually end up "losing" 2 years of our life because it's a natural act like breathing. No one gives statistics like "You waste 4 years of your life because you're breathing," so blinking isn't a real downside after all. However, very cool podcast.

Mar. 23 2015 05:13 PM
Phil from Maryland

Finally (and nice touch Radiolab). The piano piece in this (and other podcasts) was driving me crazy. Finally I asked my brother who right away identified it as the theme song to the film "The Conversation" highlighted in this podcast. Finally I can sleep knowing where this came from!

Mar. 06 2015 08:59 PM
Ender J. Hayden from Oviedo, FL

This NPR Podcast was very cool. I never thought about how much I blink in a day. While watching this podcast, I felt as though I was blinking more than usual. When I am focusing on something, I find I'm blinking less and less. Though we may "lose" 2 years of our lives blinking, I think that we actually don't "lose" those 2 years. I think we can still experience things while blinking. This podcast was over all very interesting.

Feb. 07 2015 06:16 PM
Joe from Pleasant Grove Utah

Regarding measuring historical blink rates, it might be possible to find unedited film, and count the average blink rate for a time and place. Or you might be able to get an idea by counting the blink rate of extras in edited film, but you may need a large sample size to get close to an accurate number. Perhaps radio lab listeners could help by watching their favorite old films and counting blinks.

Sep. 05 2014 01:23 PM
Martina from Santa Clara, CA

Jad! What's the name of the song you played at minute 3:57? I've heard it in other podcasts as well and just can't get it out of my head. Love it!

Also, you and Robert have been the voices of my summer. You're all I listen to while at work.



Aug. 26 2014 05:54 PM
Terry Simpson

Wiki Links states that "A human blink lasts for 0.3 to 0.4 seconds." but by that they mean the action of the entire blink, start to finish. The statement here seems to be specifically about how long does the eye see darkness or record black. Well, most of the shutting time, you still see light and images (think of closing your levelor blinds--for most of the time while closing, you can still see images).

As someone who has edited a lot of video, in my direct experience the pupil is actually covered for 1-2 frames (at the most, 3) at 30 frames per second. This is more like 3/100ths to 9/100ths of a second. At a blink every 6 seconds, this gets us an range of 0.5%-1.5% of the time your eyes are closed and see blackness. That would be an average of 1% of your waking time (if you blink an average of every 6 seconds); or perhaps 1/2 a year out of an 80 year lifespan. Or 9.6 minutes out of every 16 hour day. Or 1.2 minutes out of a 2 hour movie.

These figures can't account for how the Japanese researchers could have gotten 15 minutes out of a 2 hour movie--of course the movie was actually showing blackness for a percentage of that time (it really is a series of still images interrupted by blackness 48 times per second--the shutter covers the film while it moves to the next frame; persistence of visual makes it a moving image)

Sep. 26 2013 05:43 PM
chris from dubai

At the end of the show you assert that we lose ~2 years of our lives due to blinking. I disagree...this is why we have 5 senses. I'm sure that a blind person would agree. ;)

Jul. 18 2013 04:55 AM

do we blink aprosimately every 6 seconds

Nov. 14 2011 03:16 AM
Joao from NYC

I know of two people who break that mold.

One is an old friend of mine. She hardly ever blinks. It is quite disconcerting to talk to her in person as she stares at you without blinking. She also has terrible problems with dryness of the eyes. And she is quite bright. No problems storing information even without blinking.

The other is the son of someone I got to spend a few days hanging out in a campground with recently. He was born without eyelids. Normal eyes, no lids. He has had several surgeries in order to open his eyes, and to create some fake lids that he can blink with. He has to use a lot of facial muscles in order to blink. It takes a lot of effort, so he doesn't do it very often. And he sleeps with his eyes open. Very smart kid. While were were in the campground, he built a sophisticated crossbow with remote trigger and all out of twigs and using wet wood shavings for string.

Neither one of these people relies on blinking to capture bits of information.

Sep. 28 2011 01:56 PM
Gary Henderson from Atlanta, GA

Hey, Robert & Jad. I ran across something today you might be amused/flattered by, and it relates to this episode.

There is a site called where you can read a new short science fiction story every day. If you sign up for their email service, it emails you one every morning.

This morning's selection is called "Blink" by Carol Hassler. All the way through the very short story, I kept thinking it sounded familiar. Then at the bottom, the author put this:

"This story was written all in a rush one night but it rattled around as a daydream for a few days beforehand. This is the first of several intended writing exercises inspired by the excellent Radiolab podcast ( Those who like their science with a good dose of story should definitely check it out."

Cool, huh? :)

Jul. 06 2011 11:13 AM
Sarah from Redwood City, CA

Has anyone mentioned that this may explain why babies don't blink as much as older people? If they are on sensory overload and don't want to miss a moment maybe they have longer pauses between blinks, or perhaps their brains just take in a lot of information and since they have no reference they are able to just absorb it.

Apr. 29 2011 05:15 PM
Ariel Bentolila from San Francisco, CA

I came across a curious fact that may expand this "blink chuncking" hypothysis into interesting new lines of research. That is, some of the symptoms of hyperthyroidism are racing thoughts, fast speech, and insomnia, which all hint at an overactive (i.e., maybe faster running) brain, AND another symptom is slower blinking. Now, put all that together with Tamami Nakano’s blink research finding, and it seems to imply that faster thought can handle bigger chunks of info and thus slower blinking. This hypothesis seems ripe for experimental testing on hyperthyroid patients suffering from "fast brain" symptoms to see if there is a causal link, or maybe test on people with fast/smart brains like top commedians or genius people.

Mar. 05 2011 01:08 AM
Ariel Bentolila from San Francisco, CA

Very interesting research/show. On a related note, I believe we take people who don't blink as being some kind of sociopath (you know, the kind that just stare at light bulbs all day). I wonder if they indeed blink less (as the stereotype) and if so if they process visual info different vis-a-vis this chunking hypothesis; e.g., no/less chunking results in some kind of sensory overload that results in poor/pathological processing/understanding. That would be an interesting study....


Feb. 28 2011 03:42 AM

I blink a lot when I encounter a sudden stress or challenge. It's like I'm trying to avoid or distance myself from the stressor. I'd be interested to know if that has come up as a topic of study anywhere.

Jan. 14 2011 05:43 PM

Ever stop blinking when intently focused on an activity? This would be interesting to explore.

It happens to me when playing Dance Dance Revolution on the highest difficulty. I have to process too much visual information in too short a time. If I were to blink I would miss segments of the visual instructions. And my eyes do feel dry once the song is over, as if I'd missed a night's sleep.

Nov. 16 2010 01:56 AM

I only just listened to this episode, and i'm not sure if this has been addressed in the comments, but the implication that "we don't know why we blink" is a little misleading.
Blinking as a physiological mechanism is a way for the body to distribute the tear film across the conjunctiva of the eye, from the meibomian glands in the lids. I feel that should have been addressed first, as it allows for more critical thinking regarding "chunk processing" and the emotional role that blinking may play. For example, we know functionally why blinking is necessary, so how does the brain allow this process to occur and still maintain an uninterrupted picture of the world?
And from that, the 'synchronization' during a film and the blinking to demarcate 'beats' could be looked at as the brain knowing that at some point it must blink to maintain the tear film, and working out at what is the ideal time for this to happen in a social situation, rather than viewing a blink as an unexplained phenomenon. From a survival perspective, and even in our current society, we would almost expect to see a synchronization of blinks. By that i mean that a blink occuring at a relative "quiet point" in a film would be expected to be shared, as this would appear to our brains to be the ideal spot to almost disconnect with the visual world, and not "miss" any new inputs (whether it be food, sex, danger, or Bruce Willis shooting someone in the face)
As to the brain 'editing out' the dark periods, it's more of a pre-emptive process which (i think, don't take this as gospel) occurs in a similar way to our filling in of the blindspot created by the optic nerve, to approximate the 'dead spots' in our visual field.
At any rate, i just got home and wanted to throw out at least a couple of points while they were still in my head.
But yeah, i guess in conclusion, it seems that this episode focused more on the neuro-science without taking into account the actually physiology and function of the eyelids, and in doing so made the questions far more abstract then they needed to be. Which isn't to say that there are concrete answers in regards to brain function, and the integration of all manner of social and empathic inputs DOES transcend the blink into something above the simple function of the lids. However to omit the functional aspect does a dis-service to the science which follows.


Mar. 05 2010 03:58 AM
Goodfield Institute

Want to know more about blinking connected to non-verbal behavior visit our website. There is a lot to see, read and listen to.

Mar. 03 2010 05:27 PM

Great story. However, I was disappointed when you mentioned the missing of the movie while blinking that you didn't mention Persistence of Vision. I think people would be interested to know that aside from blinking when they go to the movie, say a 2 hour movie, for 1 full hour they are in darkness looking at a black screen. This is due to the shutter in the projector shutting off all light so the frame of film can advance.

Great show. Keep up the good work.

Jan. 26 2010 11:26 AM

Not only do you miss information when you blink, but also when you shift your gaze from one point to another, even though your eyes are open during that time. You're essentially "blind" during saccades, in that you won't notice things that occur during that brief moment when your eyes were moving. So the amount of visual information that you miss is actually greater than what was quoted in this episode, I think.

However, you can combine perceptions from other senses and even fill in the gaps in vision based on the context, so seeing every moment is not necessary.

Jan. 19 2010 08:30 PM
Ric Pilgrim

If we blink @ 10 x's/minute and each blink is .02 sec, then each minute has .2 sec spent in "blink mode" (bm).

10 min = 2 sec bm;
120 min (e.g. 2 hour movie) = 24 sec bm.;
24 hrs = 288 sec (4.8 minutes) bm;
1 year = 1752 min (29.2 hours)bm;
52 "awake" years (i.e. 80 years x .66)= 91104 min (63.26 days)in bm, NOT 2 years.

Dec. 27 2009 01:49 PM
Tom Bolton

Guys: Love the show but... the last segment of the show left me completely flummoxed. Specifically, I'm referring to the segment where you talked about how much time the average person spends with their eyes effectively closed because of blinking. The figures you mentioned were so wildly incompatible with one another that I couldn't help but wonder whether you guys basically hit the hash pipe before recording it. Here are the "facts" you mentioned:

1. A blink lasts approximately two hundredths of a second
2. We spend six seconds of every minute in "blink" (i.e. with eyes closed)
3. We spend 15 minutes of a two hour movie in "blink"
4. We spend two out of every 80 years in "blink"

OK. Let's look at these "facts."

Item 1: A blink lasts two hundredths of a second. That seems maybe a bit short, but certainly plausible.
Item 2: We spend six seconds of every minute in "blink." I was in a car when I heard that, and I didn't even need a piece of paper to know that on the face of it, this is impossible. In six seconds, there are 600 hundredths of a second. If each blink lasts two hundredths of a second, that means we must blink 300 times a minute for our eyes to be closed for a total of six seconds a minute. Clearly that's ridiculous.

And if we look at 2, 3 and 4 side-by-side, they're not even the same proportions. Observe:

Item 2: 6 seconds / 1 minute = 6 seconds / 60 seconds = 1/10 = 0.1 = 10%
Item 3: 15 minutes / 2 hours = 15 minutes / 120 minutes = 1 / 8 = 0.125 = 12.5%
Item 4: 2 years / 80 years = 1 / 40 = 0.025 = 2.5%

or, if Item 4 refers to the waking time in an 80 year life, assuming 8 hours of sleep a night, Item 4 would be: 2 years / 53.33 waking years = 0.037 = 3.7%

So items 2 and 3 are close, but clearly not based on the same figures. And item 4 is an close to an order of magnitude off. And while I'm at it, they all look ridiculous if you assume a blink is two hundredths of a second long. With a blink that long, they work out to:

Item 2: 300 blinks a minute (we saw this one already)
Item 3: 375 blinks a minute (!)
Item 4: 75 blinks a minute or 111 blinks a minute depending upon whether we're talking about

I think maybe John McCain blinked 75 times a minute during the debate. But otherwise, these figures are all silly.

Guys: awesome show. But what the hell happened here??

Nov. 18 2009 05:46 PM
Ryan Gallagher

From a photography perspective. I've often noted that when i'm shooting street or candid style... when there is action involved... I seem to blink (and be aware of doing so) right as I depress the shutter.

It's so consistent that I started to wonder if I was choosing when to shoot as a response to that "clue". Or maybe I'm just blinking because while the shutter is closed there is less to see and less to miss? I honestly don't know which is coming first though, the blink or the decision to click.

That or like the "chunk processing" analogy... my brain is attempting to freeze/record the image just like the act of photographing it is?

But it's so involuntary that often there are numerous aspects of the composition I won't detect until examining the result later. Things that didn't even register in fleeting moments but were, perhaps, still included intentionally.

Great podcast episode... lots to think about.

Nov. 08 2009 10:44 PM

I'm an animation filmmaker, and amongst us animators, it's a generally shared practice to have a character blink before they turn their head or perform a new gesture. And it's pretty much for the same idea, that there's the end of a moment and the beginning of the next.

Nov. 08 2009 03:49 PM

While listening to this podcast, I was reminded of the documentary about the Ali-Foreman fight "When We Were Kings": there's a scene where Muhammad Ali suggests, kiddingly, that the reason many people claimed that the famous "phantom punch" that knocked out Sonny Liston never happened was that they all blinked at the same time. Maybe they did! If what the researchers postulate is true- that the brain chooses a moment when nothing is expected to happen to initiate a blink- there may be some truth to Ali's joke. Ali had such an unconventional style, such a penchant for moving and punching in unexpected ways, that maybe the brains of many experienced fight watchers were gulled into blinking at the critical millisecond.

Nov. 06 2009 11:17 AM

I used to be a sound editor -- in a film, sound runs continuously while picture is given to us in frames. Interesting to me that a radio show would make the point that we are "missing" life when our eyes are closed... our ears function blink-free. Is that what gives us a sense of continuity? Helps our brains fill in the missing moments? Something to contemplate.

Nov. 04 2009 02:55 PM

I don't remember where I read this, but according to current theory eye blinking has a simple purpose:

The eyeball is living material, and needs nutrition and waste elimination, just like all other cells of our body do.
Since we don't have (enough) vessels in our eye, especially right in the pupil, the nutrition and waste elimination is done by our eye liquid and blinking.

Of course the rhythm is flexible and modified by what we think and see, just like breathing or eating.

Nov. 03 2009 05:26 AM
Mike Betette

I would be curious to see blinks be monitered as people listen to music or even podcasts to see if it is just visual information we are digesting in chunks or if our eyes blink to digest auditory information as well, and in the case of music, where would those "lulls" be?

Oct. 29 2009 03:05 PM
Sarah Yakawonis

I made this animation because I loved this story. . .

Oct. 28 2009 10:01 AM
Ralph Mens

I think the fact that blinking relates to processing information is well established. Continuing on this line, a researcher (can't remember who) suggested that the reason why people with ticks (Tourette syndrome)such as frequent blinking of the eye, are having an information overload. This is to do with the fact that they miss a certain capability to select information that is important. Instead, they take in everything and thus the blinking and other ticks.

Oct. 25 2009 06:04 PM

Great podcast. Reminded me of a very interesting article about cocaine use and blinking rates published in PLoS One Oct 2008.
"Reduced Spontaneous Eye Blink Rates in Recreational Cocaine Users: Evidence for Dopaminergic Hypoactivity."

Oct. 23 2009 06:19 PM

one of the first things you learn in animation is when to make your character blink. blinks bring life into characters; it shows that they're thinking. so it wasn't a surprise to me when you mentioned that the blink could be used to process information.

other than that, more radiolab please!

Oct. 21 2009 06:35 PM
Sean Robinson

Once again, fabulous show. Hope that the Walter Murch interview ran longer and that you guys are saving the rest for a future episode... what a great interview! I went out and bought his book about five minutes later...

Oct. 17 2009 06:22 PM
Emily Eagle

I got so excited about the possiblities presented in this episode that I told a friend about them today at lunch. This friend is a practicing Buddhist, and he told me about a Tibetan mediation practice that involves looking to an open sky--a southern exposure, he said--and blinking would naturally cease. He said he couldn't tell me more about it, but said that the practice also supports the hypothesis that blinking has something to do with conceptual thought.

Oct. 16 2009 07:45 PM

I don't find the Japanese experiment very convincing--at least as presented here. We know that people blink when startled or in response to sharp changes in luminence, etc. The fact that people blink in the same spot when watching a film is sort of obvious, given this background knowledge: the film is always showing the same changes in lumninence, etc. Not to mention that someone edited together the film, and may have been influenced by a lay theory of blinking and editing and how they should coincide. Without the study as a support, the whole episode is wildly speculative and, sadly, disappointing.

Oct. 15 2009 02:56 PM

For what it is worth, last year at a nerd convention I was part of a social experiment where someone asked everyone in the room (a few thousand people) to all blink at once (as close to simultaneous as possible) to see if there was a collective noise. Sadly, there was no noise.

Oct. 15 2009 09:24 AM

The reason we blink at these points during the movie, and the reason they are synchronised, is that we will actually sustain or keep our eyes open so we don't miss anything interesting. Then in these percieved rest periods - we blink to recover.

Oct. 13 2009 12:14 PM
Andrew W. Gibbs

As opposed to blinks being the point in time where one writes out a chunk of information from a buffer to some other processing or storage element, how about the possibility that one is merely balancing the competing tasks of keeping the eyes moist and ensuring that one does not miss critical visual cues?

Oct. 13 2009 07:55 AM
Johnathan B. Arriola

Let's extend the analogy Jad suggested on a movie theatre full of people all blinking at the same time into actual social experimentation. When the audience buys a ticket the attendant could place a little UV or infrared reflective paint on their closed eyelid. Under the big screen place a UV or infrared light and a camera sensitive to either spectrum. While the movie is playing record the audience with that camera so that each closing of the eyes will reveal a brief reflection of the paint. After some analysis of the recording you should be able to count the synchrony of the audience's blinks. I’m sure similar applications of this basic technique would add some clout to the researchers mentioned in the broadcast.

Oct. 13 2009 02:03 AM

on a similar note, runpee.comtells you good spots to take potty breaks for synchronized peeing!

Oct. 13 2009 01:51 AM

i would like to know why does it take weeks to see the new programs in the itunes store podcast feed. I come to the wnyc website and i see that, right now, there are two new programs to listen to (normal and numbers), while last one available on itunes is parasites...
i know i can download them from here, but it is not the same...

why, oh why...

Oct. 12 2009 11:46 PM

What an annoying little radio show. Like everything with NPR, get rid of the pretentious background noise and stop acting so impressed with yourselves.

Oct. 11 2009 10:42 PM

Regarding the comment above on Michael Caine's blinking...I recall watching Michael Caine on Letterman discussing the importance of "not blinking" when acting on film, something stage actors needn't worry about in the same way. The close up of the camera draws in the audience's entire attention to the face, and blinks, or the absence there of, seem to play an important role in maintaining or disrupting our attention. Micheal Caine, as I recall, talked about how when he first began acting for film, he would train himself, by walking the streets of London, trying not to blink, and in this way developed the ability to perform on screen without blinking. In a sense, he was the first to discover this function of blinking, and in so doing manipulated not only his audience but perhaps the editors of his films as well. If anyone can find a clip, please do post.

Thanks again for such an engrossing radio program. Enlightening and enrichening stuff.

Oct. 11 2009 03:23 PM

I woke up yesterday to my cat on my chest, and his blinks were phenomenal to me. I couldn't help but wonder why he was blinking and what made me blink. I jotted down a note to myself to look it up later. Cooking breakfast in the kitchen, I made it a point to listen to some of the new podcasts I was trying out. Lo and behold, there had been one on there for almost a week on blinking! Best coincidence ever. I loved the episode and have subscribed via iTunes. :]

Oct. 11 2009 06:38 AM

The dark is not edited out by my eye when I blink, so i don't know what you are talking about.

Oct. 10 2009 11:03 PM
Emily Halderman

I was going to pop over to address the animation component of this episode, but SMO beat me to it! :)

Oct. 09 2009 03:20 PM

One other interesting thing of note is that infants blink a lot less than adults do, 1 to 2 times a minute as opposed to 2-10 seconds per blink for adults. Perhaps due to a slower speed of comprehension, their buffers take longer to fill? Or because they are learning so much so fast their buffers are larger?

Oct. 09 2009 02:19 PM

We tend to close our eyes when experiencing strong sensations and emotions. It's almost like we need to divert processing resources away from visual processing (at least the processing of external visual stimuli) in order to increase the available resources to process the strong emotions or other stimuli. Perhaps blinking is similar- some transitory but important function requires the resources that are made available when the eyes are "shut off". Memory fixation would certainly have to be considered in that regard. But the synching of blinks- that's fascinating in its own right! If the film editor cuts on "rhythmic cues" and we blink on rhythmic cues, then it makes sense that blinks would be synched. That not everyone "blink syncs" might indicate a lower sensitivity to rhythmic cues for those who don't sync. I wonder now if musicians blink-sync more commonly (because of their affinity for rhythm). Anyway, thanks for the great episode!

Oct. 08 2009 05:53 PM

On the blinking synchronization there seems to be a problem I'm shocked you didnt explore (episode Stochasticity?).

If a person blinks about every 6 seconds. Is a 30% overlap in blink-timing among a group watching a 90min movie statistically significant, or does it fit the null expectation?

I think it would be more interesting to know that the frequency of peoples blinks became non-uniform (or at least different from the 'normal' blink frequency of a test subject) and synchronized during the movie as a reflection of the movies timing rather than the peoples tendency to blink.

I was, unfortunately, left unmoved by this episode because of, as I heard it, this speculative oversight.

Oct. 08 2009 04:38 PM
Michael O'Connor Clarke

Fascinating episode. The discussion with Walter Murch was terrific.

It also immediately reminded me of a wonderful old clip of Michael Caine doing an "Inside the Actors' Studio" thing on the power of an unblinking on-screen presence. I've often wondered if this was edited together or if he really did deliver this entire thing to camera in one take.

Here - watch the short clip and you'll see what I mean:

Again - thanks for continuing to produce one of the most eclectic and enjoyable podcasts out there.

Oct. 08 2009 02:16 PM

This reminded me of the experimental video work of Tran, T. Kim-Trang, particularly her piece titled Ekleipses,$tapedetail?EKLEIPSIS
which involves a case of hysterical blindness in survivors of the Khmer Rouge. The footage itself is a succession of very short, impressionistic, closeups of objects, separated by quick fades to black as if the camera itself is blinking.

Oct. 08 2009 01:49 PM

I can no longer go through life without constantly analyzing my blink rate. Thanks a lot.

Oct. 08 2009 11:48 AM
Cora Payne

is it just me, or was much of this episode (though fascinating) a stretch, as far as good science goes?

for one thing, the fact that people don't blink less in saunas doesn't make it any less likely blinking evolved to moisten the eyes (ie: it evolved into an unconscious mechanism unresponsive to humidity)

and as wayyd mentioned, 30% of people in a theater blinking at the same time is not all that improbable.

and when anything interesting happens, it makes sense that one's alertness would shortcirtcuit one's involuntary movements, like blinking, so as not to miss anything, so that blinking seems to happen more often in "off moments." i suppose the spin that blinking 'segments' our perceptions or thoughts in some psychologically interesting way just seems like such a limb to go out on in comparison to all the other possible explanations.

come on guys!

Oct. 08 2009 11:17 AM
Paul Smedberg

This may be old science, but I recall that in the 70s, perceptual psychologists believed that humans had a short-term or perceptual memory of 7 seconds +/- 2 seconds. Which seems to be roughly the blink rate -- the chunk rate.

In that time you could kinda replay what you perceived to extract info that you didn't get the first time.

. . . such as, I imagine . . .
when you hear a comment someone has made,
you don't understand what they said,
you say, "What?",
and before they have a chance to speak again,
you have re-analyzed the sound
and now you understand the comment.

Oct. 08 2009 10:01 AM
Jonas Elfström

There seems to be something not quite right in the last segment about how much we miss per minute by blinking.

According to "Spontaneous and reflex activity of facial muscles in dystonia, Parkinson's disease, and in normal subjects. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 64(3):320-4. PMID 9527141" and Wikipedia we blink about 10-12 times per minute for 300-400ms per blink. That gives 3 to 4.8 seconds per minute or about 8 minutes for a two hour long movie.

Also you don't blink while sleeping. So in an 80 year long life that would lead me to believe that you blink for about 80*2/3*0,065 =~ 3.5 years. Give or take.

Not to mention that you aren't completely blind during the whole blink cycle.

Oct. 08 2009 07:08 AM

so... maybe I didn't quite get it.
We blink when there is like no danger out there, nothing interesting.
But the podcast told us when we blink, but not why.

Oct. 08 2009 05:37 AM
Jan Damm

Best Short ever! Just watched 'The Conversation' last week and really liked the use of the dialogue and soundtrack in the short!

Oct. 08 2009 02:11 AM
Wahyd Vannoni

Regarding the "Synchronization of spontaneous eyeblinks while viewing video stories"

Shigeru Kitazawa mentions that roughly 1/3 (70 out of 200 in this case) of the audience they tested blinks at the same time in a cinema.

At first this might seem impressive and may well be so. However, it would be interesting to compare this with a random group of 200 people.

In other words, if 200 people were going about random activities (reading, walking etc...) how many of them would blink in synchrony?

Wahyd Vannoni

Oct. 07 2009 09:49 PM

In terms of information processing, I'm thinking of when people are trying to memorize something, they might stare at a piece of information while scanning it over and over again, and then blink almost from relief after that. Could it be a brief respite for the eyes, in a way? Keep them from wearing out? It also seems like physiologically, blinking would moisten as well as clear gunk from the eyeball (get rid of dust, etc.). I also think that people are more conscious of blinking than might be implied; it seems more like breathing, with both conscious and autonomic control.

Oct. 07 2009 07:42 PM

When I heard this podcast I immediately recalled the NBA (National Basketball Associations) had a playoff marketing campaign a couple of years ago that featured a split screen with two different players reading the same script, while only one half of their faces were visible. Think ('|'), each player's half of a face combined to make one whole face. I rewatched each video and sure enough, some players had their blinks down perfectly in unison. I noticed that Larry Bird and Magic Johnson blinked the least out of all the commercials, but all their blinks were still in unison. (Makes me wonder if older people blink less, or if their script had a different narrative rhythm) Each commercial had a different script, so I would be curious if anyone had any thoughts about these phenomena. The ad campaign was "There Can Be Only One" and a bunch of them are on Youtube. Great podcast and I look forward to every show.

Oct. 07 2009 05:32 PM
:: smo ::

hey guys! great show! i'm an animator so i have to put blinks in to character performances and whatnot. at one point i found an article online about the frequency of blinks. i was curious to see if the frequency changed the perception of the character. i found an article about presidential debates and how often the candidates blinked. if a candidate was nervous or didn't know the answer they blinked a lot more. so someone who blinks a lot might not feel as trustworthy or confident as someone with more evenly paced blinking patterns.

again not sure WHY but interesting how it ties together other psychological aspects.

Oct. 07 2009 03:08 PM

Very interesting short on blinking.
LOVE radiolab, never disappointed with any show! thanks.

Curious if blinking coincides with cognition as well. With the movie watching experiment in mind, do those who blink in synchronization experience the movie differently... meaning do those who blink together, seemingly in tune with the story, enjoy it more than those who are out of sync?
Just a thought.....

movie watcher #1 - "I hated that movie!"
movie watcher #2 - "well, maybe you were blinking wrong."

Oct. 07 2009 02:18 PM
Miles to go before I sleep…. » Blog Ar

[...] has a brilliant short podcast on the psychological role of blinks, based on a study that found that when watching a film our [...]

Oct. 07 2009 07:04 AM

Interesting question Randy. I wonder why our ears don't blink.


or maybe they do...

Oct. 06 2009 05:30 PM

i was craving radioLab and just in time, 'shorts!'...can't wait 'til next week!


Oct. 06 2009 04:45 PM

I loved listening to After Life. I wonder if any of your crew checked out The American Book of the Dead by E.J. Gold. AOBTD is in the similar tone of the Bardo Thodol (The Liberation Through Hearing During the Intermediate State) aka Tibetan Book of the Dead and The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
I recommend these books for further insight into the "after life" (which is not separate from this place here and now. The sacrament/entheogen/oneirogen Salvia divinorum is another safe way to gain/recover insight into said experience, I'd recommend reading The Salvia divinorum User's Guide to ensure safety and optimal results if you use this method.
Thanks for your wonderful episodes, keep up the Great Work :)

Oct. 06 2009 04:09 PM

As I was listening to the podcast with my eyes closed, I wondered if there is the equivalent of a blink for any other senses. Also, if the value of the blink is to let us process information in chunks why do we only need this for visual information? Does this mean people who are blind process information in a less "chunky" manner or have a more continuous sense of events?

Oct. 06 2009 03:22 PM

Fascinating! It occurs to me that when blink our way through the day, our brain is essentially doing what Walter Murch did to Gene Hackman, constantly cut cut cutting one discontinuity to the next.

Oct. 06 2009 02:42 PM
Bryan Higgins


Oct. 06 2009 02:04 PM
Bryan Higgins

Oops, you're right--10% of 80 years is 8 years, so Krulwich didn't exaggerate. Since one is only away 2/3 of that time, one should probably really say 6.

Oct. 06 2009 02:03 PM
RadioLab team

That piece is the main theme from The Conversation, written by David Shire for the movie.

Oct. 06 2009 11:11 AM

What is the piano piece playing at the beginning and the end of the podcast? or is that an original piece composed exclusively for this podcast?

Oct. 06 2009 10:50 AM

The album name on this particular MP3 is amusing.

Oct. 06 2009 09:21 AM

Oops, I mistyped. I meant that Jad said "2 hundreths of a second" when he should have said "200 milliseconds"

Oct. 06 2009 08:44 AM

So interesting! Radio Lab never fails to give something to impress my friends with. And Brian, seems the only mistake Jad made is to say "200 hundreths of a second" rather than "2 milliseconds," which undershoots rather than over shoots. The 15 minutes is the number the Japanese researchers quote. And 2 years is 2.5 percent of 80, not 20. Nice try.

I think Robert probably just said that off the top of his head. Seems to me the real number would be closer to 8 years.

Oct. 06 2009 08:42 AM
Bryan Higgins

Jad says that a blink is "two hundreths of a second" (20 milliseconds), which would require you to blink 5 times a second to have eyes closed 6 seconds per minute as claimed. But a blink is apparently 300-400 milliseconds, which is more in line with the 6 seconds per minute.

Note that this figure got more and more exaggerated, from 10% of the time (6 seconds per minute) to 12% (15 minutes in a two-hour movie), to 25% (2 years in an 80-year life).

Oct. 06 2009 03:46 AM

Anybody see the past House episode?
One of the writers must listen to radiolab, because the guy with the phantom limb was pretty familiar. ;P

Oct. 05 2009 11:54 PM

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