By David Martin –
We love babies but when we opened our internet tubes this week, some facts about babies came out that were kind of freaky. Have you ever looked at an infant who gives you that otherworldly stare that somehow seems knowing and deep and … wait, that baby isn’t blinking!
Actually, babies do blink — but a lot less often than adults, who blink about 10 to 15 times a minute while infants blink only once or twice a minute on average. One explanation for this is that blinking lubricates the eye and the smaller eyes of babies don’t need that much lubrication, especially considering how much time these little layabouts spend sleeping. But, upon further exploration, that theory isn’t exactly watertight, no pun intended. When you spend more than a blink of an eye on blinking (sorry), you discover that keeping our eyes moisturized isn’t the whole story behind blinking. Researchers have found, for example, that blinking rates are not affected by an environment’s humidity level. You blink the same number of times whether you’re in a dry desert or a humid rainforest.
So what’s up? Blinking is linked to your brain’s level of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that aids in cell communication. The more dopamine, the faster you blink. One cause of schizophrenia is elevated levels of dopamine, and people with schizophrenia do blink more than people without the disease. One marker of Parkinson’s disease is decreased numbers of neurons that make dopamine and, in patients with Parkinson’s, blinking is reduced.
So, maybe the dopamine-producing system in humans isn’t fully developed until after infancy: lower dopamine, less frequent blinking.
Blinking, according to an article in LiveScience, is related to tension. If you’re nervous, frightened, angry, or excited, you blink more. Court witnesses, for example, blink more when they’re questioned by opposing council. Maybe blinking is a form of nervous fidgeting.
So babies don’t blink because they have lower levels of dopamine and they aren’t nervous? The jury is still out on that.
Another theory is that the brain takes a mini-rest each time the eyes blink, and an infant’s brain, desperately trying to assimilate all the new information being presented to it each second, doesn’t take the time to rest. As adults, we tend to blink less frequently when we’re intensely focused on a task, so maybe babies go through their infanthood intensely focused.
Whatever the cause for babies not blinking, their uninterrupted staring causes our EBR (Eye Blinking Rate) to soar.