Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Why we blink is more complicated than we think

The basic explanation about why we blink is to keep our eyes moist and to wash away dirt with our tears. This is interesting but, it seems like people blink much more than we need to keep our eyes damp and clean.

Eye Tear Chart and Flow of Tears Chart

Japanese researchers reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, in 2013, that eye blinks allow the brain to momentarily process visual information. They explain:
The results suggest that eyeblinks are actively involved in the process of attentional disengagement during a cognitive behavior by momentarily activating the default-mode network while deactivating the dorsal attention network.

It seems that by packaging visual input into small data bursts, our brains can quickly transfer this input information to different parts of our brain to analyze it.
Science and magic
Way back in 1896, Joseph Jastrow wrote in Science his laboratory observations of how slight-of-hand experts trick our observations.  In the last 20 years or so, psychologists interested in how we perceive, have looked at how magicians can misdirect an audience, use banter to distract us, or give us mind puzzles to gently confuse us, so we miss visually what is happening right in front of our eyes. 
In April of 2016, in PeerJ, Richard J. Wiseman and Tamami Nakano took this type of eyeblinking/brain research one step further. Their basic question was: How does a magician use, knowingly or not, our eyeblinks to trick us? They wrote:
Given that blinking is associated with the relaxation of attention, these findings suggest that blinking plays an important role in the perception of magic, and that magicians may utilize blinking and the relaxation of attention to hide certain secret actions.

The research showed that the magicians did their slight-of-hand when the audience blinked, thus hiding the secret action. It seems magicians are able to trigger or anticipate when we will blink by using banter, mind puzzles, or boring misdirection. And, isn’t it interesting we as an audience participate and blink when the magician expects us to.
This is a fun and well implemented protocol done in the real world conditions of watching a magic trick.  Psychologists, magicians, as well as law enforcement, may need to look at the implications this has on how we humans perceive our world.  

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