What is it about?

Humans spend a remarkable fraction of their awake time while blinking. Here we show that eye blinks are not simply a mechanism for refreshing the tear film, but act as an information processing stage. By modulating the visual input to the retina, blinks effectively reformat spatial information in the temporal domain, yielding luminance signals that emphasize low-resolution information about the global structure of the visual scene. We show that human observers benefit from these transients and that this perceptual enhancement occurs independently from motor signals associated with blinks. Thus, contrary to common assumption, blinks facilitate—rather than disrupt—visual processing, amply compensating for the loss in stimulus exposure.

Featured Image

Why is it important?

Humans blink their eyes frequently, more often than it seems necessary for refreshing the tear film. Since each blink lasts 100-300 ms, it is estimated that an individual can spend as much as 10% of their awake time while blinking. Previous studies have reported that blinks may facilitate the allocation of attention. Here we show that blinks also serve a visual processing function by enhancing sensitivity to the coarse, low resolution structure of the visual scene. These results provide further evidence that temporal changes introduced by motor behavior (in this case the eye blinks) are critically important for the visual system.


This study is part of a broader program of research aimed at understanding how the brain processes visual information to establish spatial representations. Motor behavior, eye movements in particular, is a critical component of this process. Previous work from this line of research has shown that the temporal changes introduced on the retina by eye movements contribute to visual functions. This article extends the research to the transients resulting from eye blinks.

Michele Rucci
University of Rochester

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Eye blinks as a visual processing stage, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, April 2024, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,
DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2310291121.
You can read the full text:



The following have contributed to this page