Different racing drivers blink at roughly the same points on a circuit, which could reflect their synchronized mental states as they focus on controlling the car. Blinking lubricates our eyes, but how it relates to other aspects of our health is unclear. Further study could help us better understand conditions in which blink rates change, such as Parkinson’s disease.
We usually blink 12 times per minute, each blink lasting about a third of a second. Our blink rate has been linked to the attention we give to a certain task, some people blink less when focusing on a screen.
“Many people think that blinking is done just to moisten the eyes, but only a few blinks per minute are enough for this purpose.” said Ryota Nishizono at NTT Communication Science Laboratories in Atsugi, Japan.
To study how driving might influence blinking, Nishizono and his colleagues looked at three professional male drivers working for a Formula racing team. The drivers completed 304 test laps at three circuits in Japan: Fuji, Suzuka and Sugo. A binocular eye tracker mounted on their helmets recorded their blink, counted by machine learning.
An analysis of the data revealed that although the drivers’ blink rates differed, they generally blinked at roughly the same points on each circuit, with their blink rates decreasing as they drove faster.
Nishizono says the team was initially surprised to see such consistent blinking patterns between the three drivers, but since their steering patterns were similar at each circuit, it’s probably to be expected that their cognitive states, and therefore perhaps their blinking, are somewhat synchronized.
“The factors affecting the timing of eye blinks are numerous and not fully understood,” says Omar Mahrou from University College London. A better understanding of eye blinking could increase our knowledge of conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, which is associated with a reduced blink rateand blepharospasm – twitching or blinking of the eyelids that a person cannot control, he says.