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Racing drivers blink at the same points when going round a track

Different racing drivers blink at around the same points in a circuit, which could reflect their synchronised mental states as they concentrate on controlling the car. Blinking lubricates our eyes, but how it links to other aspects of our health are unclear. Studying this further could help us better understand conditions where blinking rates change, such as Parkinson’s disease.

We generally blink 12 times per minute, with each blink lasting around one-third of a second. Our blinking rate has been linked to the attention we give a certain task, with some people blinking less when they concentrate on a screen.

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“Many people think that blinking is done solely to moisten the eyes, but only a few blinks per minute suffice for this purpose.” says Ryota Nishizono at NTT Communication Science Laboratories in Atsugi, Japan.

To study how driving could influence blinking, Nishizono and his colleagues looked at three professional male drivers working for a Formula racing team. The drivers carried out 304 practice laps of three circuits in Japan: Fuji, Suzuka and Sugo. A binocular eye tracker mounted on their helmets recorded their blinking, counted by machine learning.

An analysis of the data revealed that, although the blinking frequency of the drivers differed, they generally blinked at around the same points on each circuit, with their rate of blinking decreasing as they drove faster.

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Nishizono says the team was initially surprised to see such consistent blinking patterns across the three drivers, but as their steering patterns were similar on each circuit, it is probably to be expected that their cognitive states, and therefore perhaps their blinking, somewhat synchronised.

“Factors affecting the timing of eyeblinks are numerous and not fully understood,” says Omar Mahroo of University College London. Better understanding blinking could increase our knowledge of conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, which is associated with a reduced blinking rate, and blepharospasm – eyelid twitching or blinking that a person can’t control, he says.

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