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Why do we blink?

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We must blink to clean and moisten our eyes: each time the eyelids close, salty secretions from the tear ducts moisten the surface of the eye, flushing away tiny dust particles and lubricating the exposed portion of the eyeball. We generally blink every 4 to 6 seconds, but in stimulating environments, such as a smoke-filled room, we blink more often to keep our eyes clean and moist. Avoid bacterial infections. Also, if you stare at a computer screen for a long time, the number of blinks will decrease because the light from the computer screen can irritate your eyes and cause them to dry out.

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However, if blinking is just to keep the cornea moist and clean, we need to blink more often. Babies blink only about once a minute, but adults blink an average of 10 to 15 times a minute. Currently, scientists believe that blinking is all about gathering information, because experiments have shown that we blink less when information comes in fast and often, and more when we receive less information.

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Blinking is like a punctuation mark in the brain that informs the active brain to pause its activity. If we are reading an interesting material, we blink an average of 3 to 8 times per minute; conversely when we are engaged in an activity that does not require concentration, we blink 15 times per minute. Similarly, we blink most when the textbook is turned from one page to another, or when it is changed from the end of a line to the beginning of another line.

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Any one blink is not always the same as the next. Scientists point out that the frequency and duration of blinks vary with the environment. British Air Force pilots blink faster and for longer periods when flying over friendly airspace than when flying over hostile airspace. Pilots blinked the least when detected by enemy radar, when looking for and avoiding enemy missiles, or when landing their aircraft.

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